Loveless marriage. That usually spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E. Edna and her husband Leonce usually live in New Orleans, but maybe this vacation to the Grand Isle will shake things up a bit.
The more time Edna spends with the liberal Creole people on Grand Isle, the more she becomes aware of her (non-existent) feelings for her husband. Sure she feels fond of him, but she also feels irritated with his authoritative manner. Enter Robert Lebrun. Edna and Robert fall in love with each other as Edna's husband continues being dominating and oblivious.
Edna and Robert start having a really good time together, but Robert backs off. He realizes his feelings for Edna are getting out of control, so he runs off to Mexico. Meanwhile, back in New Orleans, Edna becomes increasingly independent. She stops listening to her husband, moves into her own house, and starts an affair. (But she still loves Robert.)
Back in New Orleans, Edna begins to increasingly assert herself. She spends her time painting instead of housekeeping, and she stops making social calls. She makes plans to move out of her husband's house. This is Edna at her pinnacle of self-fulfillment. Edna also starts an affair with Alcee Arobin and experiences sexual pleasure for the first time.
Robert returns from Mexico. He and Edna finally declare their love for each other. This is suspenseful because, while Edna and Robert profess their love, Robert doesn't realize is that Edna has become an independent, sexually confident woman. Will this jive with Robert's desire for marriage?
Robert mentions marriage, only to be rejected by Edna. She tells him that she isn’t property to be transferred from one man to another. However, they’re still in love with each other. Edna asks Robert to wait while she runs off to help deliver her friend’s baby, but when she returns, Robert is gone. All that’s left is a note: "Good-bye – because I love you." Edna stays awake all night feeling terribly.
Claiming that she needs to rest, Edna goes back to Grand Isle. She arrives in Grand Isle, tells her friends she’ll go for a dip before dinner, then strips down to her birthday suit and goes skinny dipping. She swims further and further out to sea and ends up drowning. This conclusion is rather inconclusive; it gives us no real hints about her motives for suicide and even leave in question whether or not Edna’s death was actually a suicide.