Madame Ratignolle visits Edna in the pigeon house and warns her of gossip concerning her relationship with Arobin. Later that day, Edna is waiting in Mademoiselle Reisz’s apartment for Reisz to return when Robert appears. Both are shocked to see each other, and Edna is hurt that he has been back in New Orleans for two days and has not sought her out. Robert walks Edna home, and is shocked to find a photograph of Arobin among her sketches. She explains that she had been using the photo to sketch Arobin’s portrait.
After telling her his thoughts and feelings while in Mexico, he feels she is mocking him and pronounces her cruel. They sit in silence until dinner is ready.
In Chapter XXXIV, Edna and Robert eat a simple dinner, keeping the conversation away from the emotional underpinnings of their relationship. Edna is jealous when she discovers that his tobacco pouch was a gift from a young woman in Vera Cruz. Arobin arrives and by chance comments on the remarkable beauty of Vera Cruz women. Robert leaves and Arobin lingers to read the paper and smoke a cigar. Edna sends him away and reviews the last few hours with Robert, disappointed overall.
Chapter XXXV shows Edna the next morning full of hope, feeling that she and Robert can overcome any obstacles to their love. When Robert does not visit her that day, however, she despairs, a pattern that repeats itself for days as he continues to stay away from her. Yet she avoids places where she might see him, to avoid disappointment. Her affair with Arobin continues.
Madame Ratignolle continues the depiction of Edna as childish, telling her that “you seem to me like a child, Edna. You seem to act without a certain amount of reflection which is necessary in this life.” Madame Ratignolle speaks of the circumspection adults are expected to engage in, such as the care Léonce wishes Edna to act with. Edna’s entire personality has assumed the willfulness of a child since her return from Grand Isle: She wants it all ‘her way’ much like a toddler.
Madame Ratignolle also raises the issue of Edna’s endangered reputation, saying “you know how evil-minded the world is—someone was talking of Alcée Arobin visiting you.” Just as the Pontellier mansion in the midst of renovations “looked broken and half torn asunder,” so, too, does the Pontellier marriage appear—a juicy subject for the high-society women whose company Edna has shunned. Note here that when Edna is told of Arobin’s lethal reputation, she remains indifferent: She has no emotional investment in Arobin or in society’s good opinion.
She has invested time and energy into imagining her first meeting with Robert and is unprepared for the harsh reality of their first encounter. Their route to Edna’s house takes them through a decidedly non-romantic, even sordid neighborhood, “picking their way across muddy streets and sidewalks encumbered with the cheap display of small tradesmen.” Rarely in the novel does Chopin describe a physically unpleasant scene; she uses the device here to underscore Edna’s disillusionment with the reality of seeing Robert.
When they reach her home, Robert finds a photograph of Arobin. His reaction confirms the low opinion other men have of Arobin: “do you think his head is worth drawing?” Naturally Edna does not reveal the nature of her relationship with Arobin, but presses Robert to tell her what he thought about while in Mexico. His answer, that he thought of nothing but his summer on Grande Isle and felt like a “lost soul,” holds some indication for her that she was on his mind. When she responds to his question about her thoughts with a near verbatim rendition of his answer, he says she is cruel, as if she is taunting him for dwelling on their time together rather than signaling that her thoughts were with him, as well.
The most interesting aspect of Chapter XXXIV is the depiction of the familiarity that Arobin’s and Edna’s relationship has assumed. While she writes a note to their mutual friend—whom both are tired of—he has a cigar and makes himself comfortable with the paper. She asks him the date and gives him the task of mailing the note. Then he “read to her little bits out of the newspaper, while she straightened things on the table.” These activities seem less like those of clandestine lovers and more like those of a married couple. Chopin paints a homey scene, illustrating how quickly a couple can achieve an air of working familiarity, which is also a testament to how quickly passion can be replaced by familiarity.
As Edna considers (in Chapter XXXV) the reasons why Robert did not seek her out to declare his love, she decides that all the elements that constrain him—his religion, the disapproval of his family and friends, his perfunctory consideration for Léonce—“were not insurmountable; they would not hold if he really loved her.” Yet Robert may find those constraints much more daunting than does Edna, as Mademoiselle Reisz implies in Chapter XXVI.
Continuing the affair with Arobin puts an end to the hope/despair cycle. Her involvement with the utterly self-absorbed sensualist helps her along the path of true indifference; her participation in a relationship based on nothing but sexual chemistry shows her firsthand the workings of indifference.