"But the greatest happening of all...Louisa's feet had turned into a path, smooth maybe under a calm, serene sky, but so straight and unswerving that it could only meet a check at her grave, and so narrow that there was no room for anyone at her side."
In this quote, the narrator describes the central emotional and psychological turn of the last fourteen years for Louisa. With her family dead and her fiancée in Australia, Louisa has come to love her solitary life so much that there is no room for anyone in it with her.
"If Louisa Ellis had sold her birthright 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."
In this quote, the narrator alludes to the biblical tale of Esau and Jacob, in which Esau forsakes his birthright in exchange for a pot of stew, or "pottage." In Louisa's case, her birthright is marriage, and she prefers the stew of freedom.
"She had visions, so startling that she half repudiated them as indelicate, of coarse masculine belongings strewn about in endless litter; of dust and disorder arising necessarily from a coarse masculine presence in the midst of all this delicate harmony."
This quote illustrates Louisa's fear of a domestic sphere in disarray once she marries. In a way, her concern is literal: when Joe comes to visit her home in the evenings, he rearranges her things, tracks dust onto the floor, and fails to understand the pride that Louisa takes in keeping order. In Louisa's view, the dichotomy between masculine and feminine is defined by a strict boundary. Masculinity signifies disorder and chaos, while femininity indicates harmony. In this sense, Louisa's fears are larger than just some dirt in her home: they also revolve around the introduction of chaos and uncertainty into her perfectly harmonized world.
"Still no anticipation of disorder and confusion in lieu of sweet peace and harmony, no forebodings of Caesar on the rampage, no wild fluttering of her little yellow canary, were sufficient to turn her a hairsbreadth. Joe Dagget had been fond of her and working for her all these years. It was not for her, whatever came to pass, to prove untrue and break his heart."
This quote aptly summarizes another key characteristic of Louisa's personality: passivity. She feels great fear and distress at the prospect of marriage, yet she accepts it as her destiny. When Louisa finally calls off the wedding, it is only because of an external impetus: she overhears Joe's love for Lily Dyer. Without that catalyst, the narrator implies, she would pass the days sewing her wedding clothes until the marriage happens and her life changes forever.
"Louisa sat, prayerfully numbering her days, like an uncloistered nun."
In this last sentence of the story, the narrator leaves readers with a powerful image: Louisa living the life of a nun for the rest of her days. The allusion to a life of nun brings to mind first and foremost the idea of chastity. Indeed, by forsaking marriage, Louisa will likely live out her days as a virgin, barring some breach of rigid social convention. Yet invoking the image of a nun also brings up the concept of a single-minded dedication to a higher purpose. In this conclusion of the story, then, the narrator seems to comment that Louisa's fixation on harmony and beauty of her solitary domestic sphere is a higher calling just like that of a nun.
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.