Pontellier considers his reasons for criticizing his wife’s choices as a mother. The children are independent and self-sufficient—they never come to their mother for comfort. The other mothers at Grand Isle, by contrast, are nervous, protective, and self-sacrificing. Adèle Ratignolle, a friend of Mrs. Pontellier’s, is the epitome of such a woman: beautiful, graceful, and motherly, with small delicate hands.
Femininity, in this place and time, is closely bound to motherhood: a woman without children is not quite a woman. Mothers—and women by extension—exist to care for children. They must put the needs of their children above their own needs. Edna does not align perfectly to this stereotype. Her deviation from the norm irritates her husband.
Madame Ratignolle is sewing a child’s garment at Mrs. Pontellier’s cottage when Mr. Pontellier’s package arrives. Mrs. Pontellier takes up some sewing as well, though it doesn’t much interest her; Robert watches them idly. We learn from the narrator that Mrs. Pontellier had never spent much time with Creoles, Americans of French and Spanish descent, until this summer; she reflects that they are extremely open and uninhibited.
Though Edna realizes that she does not feel the overwhelming devotion to her children that the other mothers seem to feel, she does her best to put up a good show. She is not yet fully conscious of her difference; her habitual respect for convention, as well as her natural reserve, hold her back from any openly unconventional behavior.