When Zenobia greets Coverdale, she expresses her love for his poetry and says she hopes he doesn’t plan to give up writing, especially because she likes to sing some of his verses on summer nights. Coverdale says he actually hopes to write even better poetry and would love, above all things, to hear Zenobia sing his verses. Coverdale takes note of Zenobia’s appearance: she is simply dressed, one of her bare shoulders can be seen between her kerchief and gown, her hair is up without curls, and her only ornament is an exotic flower that immediately catches Coverdale’s attention. Although some people might find fault with Zenobia’s beauty for not being delicate or soft enough, Coverdale admires her for being so womanly and having the perfect blend of intellect and beauty. She is healthy and vigorous, which Coverdale thinks anybody can admire.
Coverdale is immediately sexually attracted to Zenobia. He takes note of her bare shoulder and pays close attention to her figure. Zenobia’s flowers represent her pride in herself, but flowers are also traditionally sexually-charged symbols that represent female sexuality. This highlights how Zenobia is unafraid and unashamed of her sex appeal—rather than modestly covering it up as one would expect a 19th-century woman to do (such as trying to hide her shoulder better), she embraces it as part of her natural identity.
Zenobia explains that their new life as brothers and sisters will begin at dawn. Women will take care of domestic duties (cooking and cleaning) for the present, but eventually some women might prove more adept at fieldwork and some men more adept at housework. Coverdale says it’s too bad they can’t do away with some of these domestic duties altogether because it supports an “artificial life.” After all, Eve had no dinner pots or clothes to wash in Paradise. Zenobia laughingly replies that they don’t live in Paradise and she can’t assume “the garb of Eden” until May-day. In an aside, Coverdale says that, through no fault of her own, Zenobia’s words made him picture her naked. In fact, Zenobia often inspires these thoughts, though Coverdale initially thinks she’s unaware of it. Unlike so many women, Zenobia always seems like a woman—her sex appeal hasn’t been lost to custom.
Even though Blithedale is supposed to be a very progressive society that defies traditional gender roles, they begin by perpetuating them: women must remain in the domestic sphere while men work outside of the house. Coverdale associates domesticity (and therefore femininity, since the domestic sphere is the feminine one) with an “artificial life,” effectively saying domestic tasks are useless and unnatural. This helps explain his attraction to Zenobia, who defies traditional femininity and social mores in favor of her natural identity. The “garb of Eden” Zenobia refers to means nudity (Adam and Even were initially naked in Eden). She is making a joke, but a wildly inappropriate one for the staid 19th century.
The women bustle around, making the final dinner preparations while the men sit around the fire. Silas Foster comes in from tending to the cattle and tells them all they’ll wish they were back in their warm homes soon. Despite the gloom outside, the men remain optimistic. They all feel comfortable expressing their hopes and dreams for the future, having left rigid rules and social systems behind them for the generous purpose of creating an example for the world of how much better it is for people to work together than separately or in competition with each other. Coverdale says they shouldn’t be ashamed if all their plans turned to dust—for his own part, Coverdale admires that he was once able to think better of the world than it deserves, calling it a mistake most people don’t fall into twice.
Coverdale continually reminds the reader that, even though founding members of Blithedale had the very best intentions, their plan ultimately fails. This highlights that while Coverdale in the present can appreciate their motives, he knows they were all naïve and the plan was very foolish. Still, it highlights his better nature—no matter how disillusioned he is now, back then he was generous, selfless, ambitious, and worthy of admiration. It’s also worth noting that the women are hard at work here preparing for dinner while the men are lounging around the fire and talking about their vision of this society. From the very beginning, then—despite their goal of equality—they reinforce the gender roles of the outside world.
Silas reminds the group of practical matters—they need to get pigs and there aren’t enough experienced gardeners to enable the farm to compete with other vegetable sellers in Boston markets. To himself, Coverdale realizes that Silas’s points highlight how the group stands in hostility to society rather than as a new brotherhood. Coverdale hopes this will change over time. Zenobia calls them to the dinner table. She tells Coverdale how odd she thinks it is that Hollingsworth is late because he’s not the type to be stopped by a bit of snow. While she doesn’t know Hollingsworth personally, she has heard his lectures and mourns that he’s so devoted to criminal reform. She asks Coverdale if he thinks Hollingsworth will be happy there for long. Coverdale says he likely won’t unless they all take turns committing crimes. Zenobia gives Coverdale a look he doesn’t understand.
Zenobia betrays her interest in Hollingsworth very early on, before he even arrives at Blithedale. This foreshadows the obsessive love she’ll soon develop for him that causes her to compromise her principles and look over his deep faults. Her mysterious look at Coverdale after he cracks a joke about committing crimes indicates her displeasure with him for joking about Hollingsworth, who, as Coverdale will note later, is the one person Zenobia can’t laugh about because she takes him so seriously. Coverdale’s joke is also revealing in another sense: Hollingsworth is so devoted to improving society that, as Coverdale jokes, he’d only be happy if the people around him were criminals that he could reform. In other words, Hollingsworth’s utopian streak coexists with a craving for chaos and imperfection—a dynamic that will plague the whole group as they move forward.