Dr. Mandelet walks Edna home. She muses on the significance of Madame Ratignolle’s parting words and on her own recent disillusionment with her life. The doctor strongly urges her to talk with him about what she is going through, offering compassionate understanding. She turns down his offer. Arriving home, she sits on the porch to regain her composure before going inside, deciding to be with Robert tonight and consider the consequences for the children tomorrow. Once inside, instead of Robert, she finds a goodbye note. She spends a sleepless night on the sofa.
Given the events of this chapter, Edna’s fatal depression seems inevitable. Doctor Mandelet succinctly expresses the crux of Edna’s dissatisfaction with life as a wife and mother, asserting that “youth is given up to illusions” about the nature of marriage and motherhood. The conservative culture she was raised in promoted the idea that marriage and motherhood provided an eminently satisfying vocation for all women, regardless of their temperament or true interests. Edna believed in this illusion and so committed herself to both endeavors, only to realize that she is suited for neither, being too independent and capricious.
Mandelet implies that the concept of motherhood as an integral and inevitable part of women’s lives is constructed in part by society and in part by the most basic hormonal working of human biology — society’s romanticized image of motherhood “seems to be a provision of Nature; a decoy to secure mothers for the race.” This illusion disregards the trauma of childbirth and the dissatisfaction that some women feel with the constraints of motherhood. If a woman in Edna’s culture responds to this dissatisfaction and seeks to give up marriage and motherhood in order to follow what she feels is her true path, she is condemned outright. If Edna divorces Leonce, she will be utterly ostracized.
In his counsel to Edna, the doctor insists that he would understand what she is going through, should she choose to confide in him. He is well versed in human nature, after all. The discrepancy in their levels of understanding and experience is emphasized when he twice addresses her as “my child.” She is a child in terms of her newly developed comprehension of life, having just awoken to the reality of her unsatisfying marriage and overall lack of interest in the lifestyle Leonce demands. In waking to her true self, she is birthing herself. And like a child, she insists “I don’t want anything but my own way,” an internal demand she’s been fully catering to since Leonce left for New York and the children left for their grandmother’s. Now she is forced to consider, like an adult, whether she owes her children enough consideration to go on living with their father and subverting her desire for independence. She has to ask herself whether she should “trample upon the little lives,” leaving children who need her on a personal level and who would face on a social level the stigma of their mother’s abandonment.
On this night, however, she decides to focus only on Robert, determined to consider the consequences tomorrow — “that determination had driven into her soul like a death wound,” a phrase that foreshadows her suicide. Sitting on her front porch, unaware that Robert is gone, she feels “the intoxication of expectancy,” recalling the intoxication of betting at the track in Chapter 25. Her relationship with Robert is another gamble, a bet that she loses. His note indicates that he has left because of their mutual passion: “Good-by — because I love you.” He is not willing to face the personal and social consequences of their relationship and probably feels he is sparing her, as well, from the storm of condemnation that will attend their affair should they pursue it. He does not understand that she is indifferent to such developments. She realizes he does not understand her in her new expression of self, and this realization plays a part in her decision to commit suicide, as evidenced in her musings in the final chapter.
arbitrary not fixed by rules, but left to one’s judgment or choice; discretionary.