As she walks to the beach one morning with Mademoiselle Reisz, Edna reflects on her response to Robert’s sudden departure. She thinks of him all the time, and feels disinterested in the life around her. She swims often and visits Madame Lebrun, who talks to her about Robert and shows her Robert’s things. One day, she gives Edna a letter that Robert had sent to his mother, but there’s no mention of her.
Why does Robert’s departure make Edna feel that her life is meaningless? This sort of dependent love, we should note, is not a particularly feminist subplot. Edna’s awakening and her budding romance take place at the same time, so perhaps in her mind they become dependent on one another.
Edna remembers telling Madame Ratignolle in a casual conversation that she would never sacrifice herself for her children—she would sacrifice almost anything, but not her self.
Like many people around her, Edna understands motherhood as sacrifice. For someone like Madame Ratignolle, it is a sacrifice that gives meaning to life. For Edna, it is an impingement on her freedom, which is meaningful in itself.
She talks to Mademoiselle Reisz about Robert on their way to the beach. Edna says that Madame Lebrun must miss her son, but Mlle Reisz answers that she cares more about his brother Victor. The older woman remembers that the two brothers quarreled over the girl named Mariequita. Edna grows sad and swims for a long time. Back on shore, Mlle Reisz invites Edna to come visit her in the city.
Robert’s departure doesn’t entirely derail Edna’s awakening. Though he’s gone, she still enjoys swimming in the ocean, which stands for the freedom and self-knowledge she seeks. His departure does color her awakening a darker shade of ennui and despair.