The narrator reports that Edna, from childhood, has understood “the dual life-that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions.” During this summer at Grand Isle, Edna is gradually loosening that exterior, conforming life. As an example, we see Edna and Ad?le going to the beach together for a stroll near the water. Edna has successfully persuaded Ad?le to leave her children behind, though Ad?le insists on bringing some needlework along. The narrator provides lengthy physical descriptions of the two women which establish them as foils (contrasting characters) for one another: again, Ad?le the ideal “mother-woman”; Edna, a woman who, while unconventional in appearance (“there was no suggestion of the trim, stereotyped fashion-plate about it”), possesses “noble beauty” and “graceful severity” which separate her from others. Very few other people are at the beach so early in the morning. A woman dressed in black and reading devotional literature is there, as are a pair of lovers talking sweetly to each other in the empty childrens tent.
The sight of the sea and the feel of the hot wind on the beach remind Edna “of a meadow that seemed as big as the ocean” in her home state of Kentucky. Edna recalls walking through the tall grass on a Sunday, “running away from prayers, from the Presbyterian service, read in a spirit of gloom by my father that chills me yet to think of.” Ad?le asks Edna if she has always been running away from prayers. Edna replies that she has been religious, but, upon reflection, decides she has been “driven along by habit.” Clearly, she feels more truly spiritual now, on Grand Isle, where she feels once more like the girl she was, “unthinking and unguided,” wandering through the ocean of Kentucky grass.
Edna proceeds to reflect on various relationships throughout her life. She thinks of her younger sister, Janet, with whom she habitually argued. She thinks of her older sister, Margaret, who is “matronly and dignified,” having been forced to act as the woman of the household when their mother died. Edna realizes that all of her female friends have been reserved in temperament. She recalls having crushes on “a dignified and sad-eyed cavalry officer” in Kentucky, and on a young gentleman in Mississippi. Both of these men “went the way of dreams,” evaporating out of her life. As a grown young woman, she was enamored of a tragedian (actor in tragedies), whose framed portrait she kept on her desk. When alone, she would “[kiss] the cold glass passionately.” Note the increasing distance between Edna and the objects of her affection: from reserved friendships, to infatuations with older men barely aware of her, to a tragedian with whom no real relationship could ever exist.
Edna considers her marriage to Mr. Pontellier a mistake. His “absolute devotion” when courting her led Edna to believe they would be a good match. She proved to be wrong. In fact, she married her husband out of rebellion against her father and Margaret, who opposed the union. All of her dream relationships gone, Edna “found herself face to face with the realities” of married life. She grew fond of her husband, and fond of their children, but felt a “sort of relief” in their absence, which she did not admit to herself.
Although Edna does not share all of this interior reflection with Ad?le, the honesty “muddle[s] her like wine, or like a first breath of freedom.”