The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories

The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories Summary and Analysis of The Country of the Pointed Firs, Chapters 15-21


Chapter 15 - "On Shell-heap Island"

Some time later, the narrator goes sailing with Captain Bowden, Mrs. Blackett's nephew, and impulsively asks if they can visit Shell-Heap Island to see where Joanna lived. When they approach the island, the boat runs aground, but they manage to free it without too much trouble. The narrator visits Joanna's grave. The path to the grave is well-trod, which suggests that the site is a popular place for pilgrimage despite its remote location and the many years since Joanna's death.

Chapter 16 - "The Great Expedition"

One morning, Mrs. Todd surprises the narrator with an invitation to join her at the Bowden family reunion, to which they will have to travel. The narrator accepts.

Mrs. Todd is annoyed that Sam Begg has borrowed the village chaise to go to the bank, which means they will have to ride through the countryside on a high wagon. She is also saddened that her mother has not arrived to accompany them to the reunion. Just as she is lamenting her mother's absence, however, Mrs. Blackett appears, explaining that the sea was too choppy for William to bring her over the previous night.

Chapter 17 - "A Country Road"

The three women pile into the wagon, and set out. A few miles down the road, Mrs. Todd realizes that she left the house door open. Though the narrator offers to run back and close it, Mrs. Todd declines, and instead asks the village doctor, whom they pass on the road, to take care of it, thus demonstrating Dunnet Landing's sense of community trust.

As they travel, all of the passers-by greet Mrs. Blackett enthusiastically, and a new family in the village offers the travelers some fried doughnuts. One member of that family tells them she will be at the reunion as well, and Mrs. Blackett tries to determine the relation. As they near the village of Fessenden, Mrs. Blackett tells the narrator about her beloved late sister, who lived there. When they finally arrive at the reunion, they see that it has attracted many guests.

Chapter 18 - "The Bowden Reunion"

Mrs. Blackett (whose maiden name is Bowden) recounts an old story about her youth. At that time, there were so many Bowdens in Dunnet that one day, a slave arrived a church announcing that the Bowden baby was having fits, and every woman in the congregation rushed home, believing it was her baby.

At the reunion, all of the guests receive Mrs. Blackett rapturously, as she is the eldest living Bowden and is rarely on the mainland. Mrs. Todd and another attendee, Mrs. Caplin, tell the narrator about Sant Bowden, a mentally unstable shoemaker whose condition prevented him from pursuing his passion for the military. The women briefly gossip about Mari' Harris. Mrs. Todd points out Sarah Jane Blackett, a cousin of her late husband Nathan. She comments that she deeply dislikes the woman, although she never specifies why. Everyone sits down for a delightful feast. The narrator is impressed by the Bowdens' class and noble bearing, which belies their status as humble country folk.

Chapter 19 - "The Feast's End"

At the end of the feast, everyone eats cake. They listen to hymns, and then Mary Anna Bowden, an intellectually inclined member of the family, recites poetry. On the way home, the narrator, Mrs. Todd, and Mrs. Blackett chat about what a nice time they had. Though they had originally intended to visit people on the way back, they are too tired for it.

Chapter 20 - "Along Shore"

While walking on the coast one day, the narrator observes an incident in which a cabin boy is reprimanded for falling asleep at the steering wheel of a lobster boat. At the time, she is standy nearby Elijah Tilley, a stoic and apparently grouchy fisherman. Because they share a laugh over the cabin boy's mistake, she has a chance to talk with Elijah, and discovers that he is quite pleasant despite his shyness. After he catches her subtle hints, Elijah invites her to dinner.

She is impressed by Elijah's clean, well-kept house. He explains that he makes a point of doing all the chores himself so he can keep the house in the same condition his wife left it in before she died. Although his wife passed away eight years before, his grief remains fresh. He shares some stories about her with the narrator. After dinner, as the narrator leaves, Elijah promises to bring some mackerel to Mrs. Todd. When the narrator relays the message to her landlady, Mrs. Todd comments that she admired Mrs. Tilley but that Elijah is "a ploddin' man" (126).

Chapter 21 - "The Backward View"

Summer nears its end, and the narrator prepares to bid Dunnet Landing farewell. Mrs. Todd gruffly offers a goodbye and a gift of food for the journey, then promptly leaves to visit Mrs. Caplin. It is clear that she wishes to avoid an emotional display.

As the narrator walks to the pier, she waves goodbye to Elijah Tilley, and reflects on her experiences. Then, she boards the boat and sails homeward.


The final chapters of The Country of the Pointed Firs pose one of the text's most challenging structural questions: Does it have a climax, and if so, what is it? The story's loose, meandering plot does not necessarily require a climax, and it is arguable that no vignette clearly stands out as a pinnacle of narrative action. However, there are arguments to be made for each of the two final vignettes as the novella's real climax.

In a story with little dramatic action, the Bowden family reunion is arguably its most important event. Many of the previously introduced characters - and some new ones - come together and interact with each other. If the purpose of the text is to portray Dunnet Landing and its people, then it can be argued that the reunion is the most important moment because it shows the village's citizens interacting in a normal setting, as opposed to talking about themselves to an outsider (the narrator). Further, it stresses the themes of community and family history in a clear, external way. The event also showcases many of the qualities of Dunnet Landing that the narrator finds most admirable: its close family ties, its atmosphere of unassuming contentment, and the quiet dignity of its citizens.

Yet, one can also argue that the narrator's visit with Elijah Tilley is in fact the story's climax. On the surface, it is not so different from her interactions with Captain Littlepage, Mrs. Blackett, or any of the other characters the narrator gets to know. In fact, its unassuming nature makes the placement of the scene confusing. Why would Jewett place a meeting with an entirely new character as the final scene of the novella? Why not include a scene with one of those characters more central to her story, like Mrs. Todd?

The answers to these questions serve as argument for the scene's centrality. Elijah is one of the first characters the narrator meets on her own and not through another villager, a fact that suggests she is finally integrating herself into the town. Moreover, Elijah's lifestyle evokes many characteristics of Dunnet Landing as a whole. His moving, not-unpleasant fixation on the past resonates with the fact that Dunnet is one of the last remaining outposts of the dying shipping industry and its corresponding manner of life. Most of the characters are obsessed with the past, and Elijah's situation is a strong manifestation of that. Similarly, the fact that he does not use a housekeeper reflects the resourcefulness and self-sufficiency that the narrator so admires in country people like Joanna and Mrs. Todd. Finally, the narrator reveals a singular independence in that she develops a view of Elijah that is notably distinct from the perspective of the community. Mrs. Todd has a harsher view of Elijah than the narrator does, suggesting that her relationship with him is her own. She has forged a relationship not as an outsider, but as her own person.

Regardless of whether either scene functions as a climax, it is not a traditional climax. Instead, these final scenes work thematically, stressing the story's primary themes rather than furthering the story in any way. It is best to reflect on what they demonstrate, how they serve as manifestation of the singular nature of Dunnet Landing.

Interestingly, very few characters in this text are portrayed negatively. However, Jewett does include many hints at the rancor and resentment that fester underneath the village's pleasant surface. The character we come to know best, Mrs. Todd, seems to have negative feelings toward several of the villagers, none of which are clearly explained. The most dramatic example of this is her mysterious aversion to Sarah Jane Blackett, which is so potent that she considered not attending the family reunion. Mrs. Todd's less charitable side surfaces again when she gossips about Mari' Harris and Elijah Tilley. Although Jewett's portrayal of Dunnet Landing is generally very positive, she does not deny that its residents can at times be parochial, gossipy, and narrow-minded. These qualities are simply part of the people who have them, and she tries not to stress those qualities as too central to those personalities.

A meandering structure is not the only quality that The Country of the Pointed Firs shares with the literary essay form. It also includes a conclusion that neatly summarizes many of the ideas that Jewett wants us to take away from her text. As she prepares to leave Dunnet, the narrator reflects how, "once I had not even known where to go for a walk; now there were many delightful things to be done and done again, as if I were in London" (127). Jewett has compared Dunnet Landing favorably with large cities at other points in the text, and here, she reminds us once again of her belief that America's small villages have just as much variety and experience to offer as its great cities do. They certainly boast equally memorable characters. She also reiterates that "the ease that belongs to simplicity is charming enough to make up for whatever a simple life may lack" (128). This point has been illustrated throughout the novella by characters like Mrs. Todd, Mrs. Blackett, and Sant Bowden, and Jewett reiterates it as one of the text's central tenets. There is profundity in simplicity, provided one is willing to acknowledge it.