A few weeks later, Madame Lebrun holds a party for her guests. The place is beautifully decorated, children are playing, adults are chatting. Two young girls called the Farival twins play a boring duet on the piano, and everyone but the irritating parrot listens patiently. Two other siblings recite some literature, and a very small girl in a fancy costume performs a dance as her mother watches avidly. Madame Ratignolle plays the piano—mostly, she says, for the sake of her family.
The first half of the party is occupied with examples of art that is dull, insincere, and socially motivated. The twin girls play because it is appropriate for young girls to perform on the piano, not because it brings anyone pleasure; the little girl dances a grotesque parody of femininity at her mother’s behest; and Madame Ratignolle’s performance is just another example of her performance as a mother.
Mrs. Pontellier dances for a while and then retreats to the windowsill to observe the party. Robert offers to ask Mademoiselle Reisz, a talented musician and a cantankerous spinster, to play the piano; to Mrs. Pontellier’s delight, the old woman agrees. Mrs. Pontellier loves hearing the woman play—the music often creates images in her mind. This time, Mademoiselle Reisz plays a piece Edna calls “Solitude.” Edna responds to the music not with images but with powerful feelings, and begins to cry. The pianist notices her strong reaction and speaks to her with approval.
Madame Pontellier is bored by the first three displays, but Mademoiselle Reisz’s music overwhelms her with feeling. The difference is that Mademoiselle Reisz plays from her self, and for herself. The twins, the child, and Madame Ratignolle perform to obey (more or less consciously) a set of social conventions. Edna reacts so strongly to the Mademoiselle Reisz’s music because it conveys to her a glimmer of individuality.