Local Color Fiction; Short Story; Literary Realism
Setting and Context
New England countryside, 1890s
Narrator and Point of View
The narrator is unnamed and speaks in the third person to describe the events from an outside perspective.
Tone and Mood
The mood is melancholy and passive. The tone is observant and realist.
Protagonist and Antagonist
Louisa is the protagonist. There is no real antagonist other than the prospect of marriage and change to Louisa's life.
The story's conflict takes place within Louisa. She dreads marriage but passively moves towards it—until she overhears a conversation that prompts her to confront it head-on.
Louisa eavesdrops on a conversation between Joe and Lily and realizes they are in love. After overhearing them, she calls off her marriage with Joe and spends the rest of her days alone.
At the conclusion of the story, the narrator alludes to the biblical narrative in which Esau sells his birthright for a pot of stew. If Louisa, the narrator comments, did the same, "she did not know it, the taste of the pottage was so delicious, and had been her sole satisfaction for so long. Serenity and placid narrowness had become to her as the birthright itself."
The narrator also comments that even St. George's dragon was not more fierce and evil in its reputation than Caesar, Louisa's old dog. St. George's dragon references a legend that centers on the figure of Saint George (died 303), who slew a dragon who was known for demanding human sacrifices.
See the separate "Imagery" section of this ClassicNote for details..
There is a parallel in the characters of Lily, Caesar, and the canary. All three of these characters are confined to lives of solitude.
Metonymy and Synecdoche
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.