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The Awakening | Chapter 30 | Summary

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Summary

Edna's grand dinner ends up being a cozy dinner with only nine guests, including Mrs. Highcamp, Alcée Arobin, Mademoiselle Reisz, Monsieur Ratignolle, Victor Lebrun, and a few others. Edna wears a hair decoration of diamonds, telling her guests it is a birthday gift from her husband. In reality she bought it with his money without telling him. They have a cocktail and a toast to her birthday, and the guests settle into conversation and storytelling. Although the party goes well, Edna feels a sense of hopelessness. A few guests leave, and the remainder implore Victor to sing for them, which he finally agrees to. However, the song is one that Robert had sung, and Edna becomes upset. She tells Victor to stop singing, banging her glass on the table so that it breaks, breaking up the party.

Analysis

Like most of Edna's life, her party is a strange and confusing mix of conventional and unconventional, of rule following and rule breaking. In outward appearance the dinner is beautiful, and Edna is dressed for the part of hostess—including a birthday gift from her husband. Yet there is an element of discomfort among the guests. Mademoiselle Reisz is so focused on the food and drink that she is somewhat rude to Monsieur Ratignolle, who tries to get her to discuss music. The two of them leave the party early, and the remaining guests become charmingly unruly. Edna has a growing sense of hopelessness and finally ends the revels rather violently.

This dinner party can be seen as representative of Edna's situation. She has thrown off convention and has invited a strange mix of people to her home—several of whom have not been introduced in the novel until now. She has done everything just as she wanted, but instead of coming together to make a new and wonderful mixture these disparate elements do not mix well at all. In a way she has trusted her impulses, and those impulses have resulted in a confusing mess. Edna's hopelessness grows as she sees more clearly that the various parts of her new life might not be able to exist harmoniously. The chaos with which the party ends is not encouraging.

One scene in particular stands out. A very drunk Victor Lebrun silently contemplates his champagne glass while Mrs. Highcamp crowns him with a laurel of roses and drapes her own scarf around his body, making a Greek statuette of him. Thus this rather naive islander becomes a "vision of Oriental beauty," a sort of Dionysus around whom the maidens might be thought of as encouraged to dance lasciviously. Instead they lament that they cannot paint, even as they seem to have brought this sculpture to life and encourage it to sing. His song enrages Edna and puts an end to the party.

The tableau, a silent artistic spectacle intended to be heavily symbolic, mocks Edna's life as an artist, poking fun at her aspirations both to create and to love. Instead both are depicted as thinly veiled excuses for depravity. She insists on the purity of her vision as she has insisted on the purity of herself in relation to her children.

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