Victor is repairing one of the houses at Grand Isle and telling Mariequita about Edna’s glamorous party. She becomes jealous of Edna, and tells Robert haughtily that she could have many other lovers if she wanted to; Victor’s passionate and obedient jealousy calms her down. Suddenly, Edna herself approaches them. She has come down to Grand Isle for a visit, and asks if she could have a room in the house and a seat at dinner. First, though, she wants to go for a swim.
Victor and Mariequita’s flirtations are a bit silly, but they seem beautifully open and real compared to Edna and Robert’s needless estrangement. The disappointment of the previous day makes Edna long for the depth and simplicity of the ocean, and perhaps for the place where her awakening once seemed like a beautiful thing.
After Robert left that night, Edna sat up thinking about her indifference for the people around her; even Robert, whom she loves, will one day fade from her life, and she will be completely alone. Her children want to drag her soul into love, but she doesn’t want to sacrifice her soul to them. The sea in front of her is inviting and solitary, and a bird with a broken wing is circling overhead.
At first, Edna’s restless sadness might have been focused by the issue of women’s rights. Now, her despair has become something else –she can feel only emptiness. The bird with a broken wing symbolizes the young woman whose rebellion has taken her too far—who has failed to find a substitute for the conventions she rejected, who wishes to fly but can only go in circles because she has been hurt by the world.
Edna takes off her bathing suit and stands naked in the open for the first time. She loves the free feeling. She walks into the cold water and swims farther and farther out. She becomes very tired, then afraid for a moment, then she remembers vividly the smells of certain flowers form her childhood and the barking of an old dog. The reader must finish the sad story herself.
The only feeling that remains to Edna is love of freedom. When nothing is worth having, and everything is a burden, freedom and emptiness become identical. Just after the book ends, Edna drowns. Her death is not violent or self-hating; it is a gentle step toward the emptiness she loves best.