Although Mademoiselle Reisz is not introduced until Chapter 9, she is represented in the novel’s opening scene by the mockingbird. Chopin describes the parrot (which symbolizes Edna) as speaking “a language which nobody understood, unless it was the mockingbird that hung on the other side of the door.” Madame Reisz’s piano playing speaks to Edna’s soul as if that music were the language her soul had been waiting in silence for, awakening grand passions in Edna’s soul and sparking her later rebellion.
Mockingbirds have a reputation as obnoxious birds, and Madame Reisz shares a similar reputation as a rude, ill-tempered woman. The description of the mockingbird also sets the tone for Madame Reisz’s independent behavior within the confines of the insistently polite upper-class Creole society; she too whistles her own tune “with maddening persistence.” Mademoiselle Reisz’s isolation, both physical and social, provides more time for her art and herself. Although she leads a solitary life without friends or family in a dingy, dirty apartment, she has learned to live with the bad that accompanies the good, enduring the physical and societal limitations of a single woman who insists on telling the truth in exchange for living on her own terms.
Performing on piano is not mere entertainment or domestic decoration for Mademoiselle Reisz as it is for Madame Ratignolle. As a serious musician herself, Mademoiselle Reisz is doubtful that Edna is strong enough to become a true artist. Her definition of an artist as a “brave . . . soul that dares and defies” becomes a major theme of the novel. When she tests Edna metaphorically, physically feeling for her symbolic wings, and warns her about the fate of those souls who end up “bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth,” she foreshadows Edna’s final scene on the Grand Isle beach where a bird with a broken wing is sinking ominously through the air to its death in the water.