The Awakening Chapters 17-20
The Pontellier household on Esplanade Street in New Orleans is draped in fine décor, silver, and artwork. Mr. Pontellier takes enormous pride in his home and possessions while Mrs. Pontellier unhappily welcomes visitors and callers. On Tuesday - reception day - Edna wears a more plain dress than normal and declares at dinner that she has gone out during the day. Shocked by such news, Leonce explodes at his wife, wondering how and why she could leave their house on Tuesday, when people come to visit. He looks at the cards of the visitors that missed Edna and cannot understand how his wife could put their business in such damage, by leaving so unexpectedly. He leaves and Edna finishes dinner alone. She feels short of breath and leaves the table to go to her room. Looking out the window, she sees the darkness and the garden. "She was seeking herself and finding herself in just such sweet, half-darkness which met her moods. But the voices were not soothing that came to her from the darkness and the sky above and the stars. They jeered and sounded mournful notes without promise, devoid even of hope" Chapter 17, pg. 69. She tears up her handkerchief, takes off her wedding ring, and stomps on it on the ground. She picks up a glass vase and flings it on the ground, breaking it to pieces. A maid hears this crash and comes in to inquire, when she sees the mess on the ground. She worries about Edna's feet and returns her wedding ring found on the ground. Edna slides it back on her finger.
The next morning, Mr. Pontellier gets up early to leave to buy new fixtures for the house. Edna declines the invitation to accompany him, wondering why he needs to spend more money. He tells her to take care of herself because she is starting to look pale, and leaves. Edna stands on the veranda and overlooks the boys playing, the fruit vendors in the street, and thinks about the previous night. She then looks through some of her old sketches and sees their shortcomings. She stares in the mirror, scrutinizing her hair, her moles, her skin.
She walks through the streets thinking of Robert. Her infatuation has grown immense and passionate, and she can think of nothing else until she walks over to meet her dear friend, Madame Ratignolle, with whom she has been a close friend since the summer at Grand Isle. She lives near Edna, for Monsieur Ratignolle owns and runs the drugstore on the corner. Edna sees the Ratignolle's as very French. They throw lively parties once a fortnight with music and dancing.
When Edna arrives, Adele Ratignolle is folding laundry. She abandons it to entertain her dear friend. Edna shows Adele her paintings and desires to paint Adele. She values her opinion greatly and hopes for positive feedback on her work. She humbly revels in Adele's overt appreciation of her painting. She gives her several as gifts, greets Monsieur Ratignolle and leaves, contemplating her life and her feelings for her friend.
Edna thinks her actions of the previous night to be foolish. She wonders how could she have stamped upon her wedding ring. She begins to surround herself and her being with independence by going outside alone, abandoning her Tuesday meetings, not returning people's calls, and painting anything and everything in her presence. Leonce has difficulty dealing with his wife's independent mind.
"It sometimes entered Mr. Pontellier's mind to wonder if his wife were not growing a little unbalanced mentally. He could see plainly that she was not herself. That is, he could not see that she was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we would assume like a garment with which to appear before the world." Chapter 19, pg. 75
There are days in which Edna is thrilled to be alive, to paint, see the sun, rain, and mood. And there are also days in which she is unhappy. Regardless, she makes her own moods and begins to live her life the way she wants, without impositions and orders.
On one of the days in which Edna is unhappy, she desires to see Mademoiselle Reisz and sets out to find the pianist in the city. She discovers in the city directory that she lives on Bienville Street, a hefty distance from her own home. The area is filled with mulattos and people, who all think poorly of Mademoiselle Reisz. The proprietor tells Edna that she had left the neighborhood and does not know her current residence. Edna's desire to see the pianist grows so intense that she thinks of asking Madame Ratignolle who despises her. She walks over to the Lebrun house to inquire. Victor answers the door with elation upon seeing Mrs. Pontellier. Edna decides to wait outside and sit on the outside furniture while she hears Victor's stories of the city. Madame Lebrun eventually enters the room of wicker furniture, dressed in summer white, and attacks Mrs. Pontellier with questions. She gives Edna Mademoiselle Reisz's address, declining to accompany her, and talks about Robert's letters from Mexico. He is doing well. Edna is thrilled with her afternoon ventures so far and leaves to find her pianist friend. Victor remarks that Mrs. Pontellier looks beautiful.