The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace. (Gilbert, 57)
Conscious and semi-conscious thoughts of the absurdity of existence, of radical human freedom, and the possibility of creating one’s own essence are not the only signs characteristic of the coming out stage. Coleman also observes that telling others, or self-disclosure, and the need for external validation is vital to coming out and healthy self-acceptance. (Coleman, 34) This critical need is accomplished by Edna Pontellier in her coming out party, where she commences to abandon her marriage and create her own world of possibility and self-fulfillment.
Coleman notes that self-disclosure involves risk taking in that the individual can never definitively know prior to the act of disclosure the reaction of those to whom one comes out. These risks---of rejection, ridicule, and hurt---are balanced against the need for external validation. (Coleman, 34) If the reactions to self-disclosure are positive, internalized oppression may evaporate, self-esteem may improve, and the existential crisis may begin to successfully resolve itself. If the reactions are negative, however, oppressive notions may be reinforced, sealing stereotypes in the mind, and planting the seeds of self-loathing and self-hatred. (Coleman, 34-35)
Though Edna had spoken of the dinner as a very grand affair, it was in truth a very small affair and very select, in so much as the guests invited were few and were selected with discrimination. (Gilbert, 142)
Perhaps realizing her own vulnerability, the risks of such an announcement, and the fragility of her self-concept, Edna is very careful in who she invites to her party. In spite of her careful preparations and select invitations, the irony of Mrs. Pontellier’s coming out party is that in the very moment she announces her freedom to those closest to her, their presence only reminds her of the oppressive social conditions that suppressed women during the fin de siecle.
There was something in her attitude, in her whole appearance when she leaned her head against the high-backed chair and spread her arms, which suggested the regal woman, the one who rules, who looks on, who stands alone.
But as she sat that there amid her guests, she felt the old ennui overtaking her; the hopelessness which so often assailed her, which came upon her like an obsession, like something extraneous, independent of volition. It was something which announced itself; a chill breath that seemed to issue from some vast cavern wherein discords wailed. There came over her the acute longing which always summoned into her spiritual vision the presence of the beloved one, overpowering her at once with a sense of the unattainable. (Gilbert, 145)
Coleman’s third stage, the exploration phase, is characterized by experimenting with one’s new identity. This stage provides an opportunity to honestly and openly interact with others within the context of one’s new identity. Coleman describes the events of this stage as a sort of “crashing out”: the individual may exhibit signs of awkwardness during the intensity of the exploration phase. Individuals in this stage are occupied with developing interpersonal skills, a sense of personal attractiveness; and sensual, sexual, and spiritual competence to support their newly created self-identity. (Coleman, 35-37)
The exploration stage of Edna’s coming out process is best exemplified in her relationship to Mademoiselle Reisz. Herself a symbol of self-creation as musician, Reisz, who is not married, and no less the wise for her singleness, becomes the knowing confidante who advises as well as warns Edna of the perils of her self-discovery and personal fulfillment.
“Do you know Mademoiselle Reisz?” she asked irreverently.
“The pianist? I know her by sight. I’ve heard her play.”
“She says queer things sometimes in a bantering way that you
don’t notice at the time and you find yourself thinking about
“Well, for instance, when I left her to-day, she put her arms around me and felt my shoulder blades, to see if my wings were strong, she said. ‘The