A New England Nun


"A New England Nun" falls within the genre of local color. A thorough focus on native scenery, dialog of the characters as native to the area, and displays of the values of a 19th-century New England landscape, are all contributing elements to that genre. The story is told from a third person viewpoint.

Another specific, structural feature includes Freeman's focus on nature. The piece begins with a brief but thorough description of the landscape surrounding the world of Ms. Louisa. "Somewhere in the distance the cows were lowing, and a little bell was tinkling; now and then a farm-wagon tilted by, and the dust flew; some blue-shirted laborers with shovels over their shoulders plodded past; little swarms of flies were dancing up and down before the peoples' faces in the soft air." Through this small scene the reader feels the presence of nature and the rhythm to which people and time march on in the New England landscape.

The emphasis of the countryside and the human's small part of nature also is very reminiscent of literature of the time period. Dr. Jesse S. Crisler, a scholar specializing in literary realism,[3] notes in his class lectures that the opening and closing scenes of the piece are reminiscent of Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard".

Unbeknownst to Louisa, the reason Joe will not disengage himself from her is because he would "break her lil’ heart". The same reason holds true for Louisa as the wedding day approaches. When both parties realize there is no affinity for one another, there are no arguments or fights but a simple conversation that leads to an honorable ending for both Louisa and Joe. Lily is also an example of honor as she declares, "Honor's honor, an' right's right. An' I'd never think anything of any man that went against ‘em for me or any other girl - you'd find that out, Joe Dagget." As a whole, the honor displayed in the story is an element of the local color of the New England area.

The title of "A New England Nun" captures several qualities of both nature and religious sentiments. The genre of local color is partially characterized by the landscape scenes. "There was a full moon that night. About nine o’clock Louisa strolled down the road a little way. There were harvest-fields on either hand, bordered by low stone walls. Luxuriant clumps of bushes grew beside the wall, and trees—wild cherry and old apple trees—at intervals. Presently Louisa sat down on the wall and looked about her with mildly sorrowful reflectiveness. Tall shrubs of blueberry and meadow-sweet, all woven together and tangled with blackberry vines and horsebriers, shut her in on either side." The emphasis is not on the impact nature has on the humans, nor the humans upon nature. Like a good ecosystem, both nature and humans are able to interact peacefully. However, in spite of the drama of the story, the ecosystem continues on in its natural rhythm.

The term "nun" implies several layers of complexity to the short story. There are a number of religious inferences to the text, which give the piece a feeling for the deep devotion of Louisa to her way of life. For example, "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". This passage explains the opportunity for marrying had passed the protagonist and her "pottage" was the world she meticulously cared for. The passage expresses an awareness of the loss of a good opportunity, but the greater joy came from the "pottage" of the life she already knew. Another example: “Louisa sat, prayerfully numbering her days, like an uncloistered nun". The catholic notion of prayer accompanies the rosary and the numbering of prayers. Freeman uses this religious imagery to display the devotion-like rhythm Louisa accepts and loves.

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