The short story opens with a detailed and evocative description of the setting. First, the time of day is just before dusk, when "the light was waning." As a result, the trees in the yard cast varying shadows. Second, in terms of sound, "somewhere in the distance the cows were lowing, and a little bell was tinkling." And in terms of sight, "now and then a farm-wagon tilted by, and the dust flew; some blue-shirted laborers with shovels over their shoulders plodded past," and "little swarms of flies were dancing up and down before the peoples' faces in the soft air." Finally, the narrator describes the effect of all of these sensory experiences together: "a gentle stir" and the evocative sense of "a very premonition of rest and hush and night." This description firmly situates readers in the local pastoral setting from the very start of the story.
Lush and Wild Nature
When Louisa goes for a walk and settles along the stone wall, the narrator paints a beautiful picture of the scene around her. A full moon is overhead, and Louisa sits among the harvest fields. "Luxuriant clumps of bushes" as well as fruit trees surround Louisa as she sits. she is surrounded by "blueberry and meadow-sweet, all woven together and tangled." This description provides a stark contrast to the indoor, sterile environment in which Louisa thrives.
Freeman employs powerful religious imagery to describe Louisa's solitude. At the end of the story, in accordance with the title of the text, Louisa is compared to a nun. Immediately, themes of virginity, morality, solitude, and a higher calling emerge. The theme of religiosity is emphasized through the use of descriptive words such as "prayerfully," and symbols such as "pearls in a rosary."
The narrator gives special attention to Louisa's solitary tea. She sets the table and arranges the tea "with as much grace as if she had been a veritable guest to her own self," laying out a "starched linen cloth," a "damask napkin," and various cups and saucers all made out of fine china. The supper consists of "sugared currants," several kinds of cakes and bread, and lettuce from Louisa's garden. The narrator also closely describes Louisa's way of eating, which is both "delicate" and hearty.
This close detail to Louisa's tea-time indicates a level of importance to the domestic space. The precise arrangements of food and cookware communicate Louisa's attention to detail in the home, along with the value she places on appearances.
A New England Nun Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for A New England Nun is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.