Jewett often refers to the afterlife and supernatural events in her portrayal of Dunnet Landing. After hearing Captain Littlepage's anecdote about the waiting-place, she explicitly compares Dunnet Landing to this in-between area between life and death. Her allusions to the afterlife can also be more mundane; for example, she writes that "the sunburst upon that outermost island made it seem like a sudden revelation of the world beyond this which some believe is so near" (29). Supernatural experiences such as Mrs. Todd's ghost sighting in "The Foreigner" might help to explain the villagers' seemingly mystical knowledge of life, morality, and the human condition. Regardless, the use of supernatural imagery certainly helps the narrator to imply the profound attraction that Dunnet Landing holds for her.
Jewett argues on multiple occasions that travel brings "enlightenment" to individuals and to communities. However, she qualifies this by noting that it is not the only kind of wisdom; for example, Mrs. Todd is one of the wisest characters in the book, but has never traveled far from Dunnet. Of course, even Mrs. Todd remains active traveling the countryside, which gives her a peace of mind lacking from characters who are stuck in their environments, like Thankful Hight or Abby Martin. Further, the shipping industry has guaranteed that many villagers have traveled abroad, and for some of them, it has been a transformative experience. This dovetails neatly with the fact that Pointed Firs is itself a travel narrative, albeit one in which the destination eventually becomes very familiar. Just as its well-traveled residents have enriched Dunnet Landing, readers can also be rewarded by visiting Dunnet vicariously through Jewett's text.
Many of the characters in The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories have been dramatically altered, if not destroyed, by grief. These include Joanna Todd, Elijah Tilley, Nathan Todd, and Thankful Hight. Although grief is a universal part of the human experience, it seems to affect Dunnet Landing more than other places. This may be due to the village's aging community – as the shipping industry has disappeared, the town's younger residents have had to look elsewhere for work, leaving the older people to gradually die out. (For more on this, see the theme of regional decay.) Grief serves as one of the few heavy, sad counterpoints to the otherwise joyous experience the narrator has during her time in Dunnet.
Dunnet Landing is a place of beauty and vitality, but Jewett nevertheless includes hints that the town and its surrounding region are slowly decaying, as its main industry has declined and people are moving elsewhere. Captain Littlepage explicitly decries this trend when he first meets the narrator. Many of the other characters whom the narrator visits, including Thankful Hight and Abby Martin, have become isolated because their neighbors have died or moved away. “There used to be a few good families over there,” Mrs. Todd says about Abby Martin’s neighborhood, “but they’ve died and scattered, so now she’s far from neighbors. There, she really cried, she was so glad to see anybody comin’” (197). This regional decay mostly refers to the civilization that built up around Dunnet Landing - the nature itself will persevere - and thus allows for a sad, elegiac undertone to the narrator's otherwise joyous experience in Dunnet Landing.
Harshness of Nature
Dunnet Landing's relaxed, gentle lifestyle belies the fact that its residents must eke out a hardscrabble existence in a generally uncompromising natural environment. Jewett includes periodic reminders of this reality in peripheral subplots, such as Mrs. Todd's story in "The Queen's Twin" about the women who were traumatized after spending a night lost in the woods. "I've known three good hard-workin' families that come here full o' hope an' pride and tried to make something o' this farm, but it beat 'em all" (197), she says of the inland landscape in that story. Occasionally, nature also takes a more prominent role in Jewett's plots – for example, Captain Tolland's death at sea is a catalyst for the main action of "The Foreigner." It is this harshness that implicitly helps to understand the self-reliance and inner strength of many of the characters who have endured in Dunnet.
Over the course of Pointed Firs, the narrator undergoes significant, albeit subtly-related, character development. Most importantly, her time in Dunnet Landing enhances her ability to empathize. At first, her eager interest in the villagers seems primarily intellectual – perhaps it is related to her unspecified writing project. However, as she comes to know many of her neighbors in Dunnet, even the strange and unpleasant ones like Elijah Tilley and Thankful Hight surprise her with their fundamentally good nature. Usually, the narrator comes to this realization after trying to empathize with their circumstances, as she does when considering Elijah's widowhood and Thankful's poverty.
One of the reasons that Pointed Firs is so undramatic is that the narrator does not witness its most dramatic events firsthand. Instead, she learns about them through stories she hears, and then relates to the reader. Examples include Joanna's life on Shell-Heap Island, Mrs. Captain Tolland's eerie death, and Captain Littlepage's story about the waiting-place. If empathy is a theme and catalyst of Jewett's plot, then storytelling facilitates empathy and becomes a means through which the characters can connect despite different their different backgrounds and personalities. Further, the emphasis on storytelling establishes Dunnet Landing as a place of oral culture, where history is preserved through memory and retelling.
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