The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories

The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories Summary and Analysis of The Country of the Pointed Firs, Chapters 8-14


Chapter 8 - "Green Island"

Mrs. Todd, the narrator, and a young man named Johnny Bowden depart for Green Island. Johnny's purpose is to manage the boat as they sail. They trawl for fish along the way so that Mrs. Todd's mother, Mrs. Blackett, will not feel obliged to unexpectedly feed three people.

As they sail, Mrs. Todd points out places of interest to the narrator, telling her of a family feud and of a man who does not adequately feed his sheep. When they arrive on Green Island, the narrator enjoys meeting the friendly and youthful Mrs. Blackett. Everyone admires the old woman's kitten and new carpet. Mrs. Blackett mentions that her shy, eccentric son William (Mrs. Todd's brother), will visit later in the evening.

Chapter 9 - "William"

Mrs. Blackett wants to make chowder, but has no potatoes. Mrs. Todd wants to call William to dig for them, but the narrator volunteers to do it. While she is working, William arrives, and the narrator is surprised by his advanced age. Together, they carry the potatoes back to the house. After greeting his family, William takes the narrator to a ledge that offers a spectacular view of the island.

Chapter 10 - "Where Pennyroyal Grew"

After dinner, Mrs. Blackett and William rest while Mrs. Todd and the narrator collect herbs from around Green Island. While they are out, Mrs. Todd shows the narrator some old family photographs she brought from Mrs. Blackett's house.

They arrive at a meadow where pennyroyal grows, and Mrs. Todd tells the narrator how she and her late husband, Nathan, would come here when they were courting. Nathan died at sea early in their marriage. She also confesses that though Nathan was a good husband, she always remembers her first love, who abandoned her. The pennyroyal makes her think of this first love more than it does of Nathan. The narrator is touched to be trusted as confidante.

Chapter 11 - "The Old Singers"

When they return, Mrs. Blackett makes tea for everyone. The narrator compliments Mrs. Blackett on her idyllic home. At Mrs. Todd's behest, William and Mrs. Blackett sing beautifully for their guests. They then see the guests off with gifts of potatoes and salted mackerel.

Chapter 12 - "A Strange Sail"

Susan Fosdick, an old friend of Mrs. Todd's, visits Dunnet Landing. The narrator is initially annoyed that the visit will disturb her tranquility, and is further bothered when Mrs. Fosdick rudely arrives several days late.

However, she warms to the visitor when they discuss their travel experiences. Over dinner, Mrs. Fosdick reveals that her younger sister Louisa has died, which prompts the two older women to reminisce about their childhoods. Mrs. Fosdick tells about going to sea with her father when she was a young girl.

Chapter 13 - "Poor Joanna"

Mrs. Todd and Mrs. Fosdick tell the narrator about Joanna Todd, a cousin of Mrs. Todd's late husband. After she was abandoned by her fiance, Joanna moved to the remote Shell-Heap Island and became a hermit. The townspeople continued to watch out for her from afar, and one young man who was in love with Joanna would leave lovely gifts for her on the island's banks. Mrs. Todd recounts how, as a young woman, she once went to visit Joanna along with the town's minister, Reverend Dimmick. They had difficulty getting to Shell-Heap Island due to bad weather.

Chapter 14 - "The Hermitage"

Mrs. Todd's story is briefly interrupted by someone who arrives to buy herbs for a sick child. After the transaction is complete, Mrs. Todd continues the story.

When she and Reverend Dimmick arrived at Shell-Heap Island, it was evident that Joanna had taken good care of herself; her manner "was real polite an' gentle, yet forbiddin'" (75). The situation grew awkward when the reverend bluntly asked Joanna if she had kept up with her religious practice since moving to the island. However, Joanna stayed respectful, and showed him both some Native American artifacts she'd found, and examples of the shell-heap for which the island was named. While the reverend was out looking at the shells, Mrs. Todd felt comfortable expressing her emotion, and she hugged Joanna and begged her to return to town. Joanna calmly refused. When Joanna died years later, she was buried on the island, and many people went to her funeral.


In the middle section of The Country of the Pointed Firs, Jewett continues to relate the narrative through a loose, episodic structure centered around her encounters with Dunnet Landing's eccentric residents. Character remains her primary focus, to the point that even some of the reminisces - about Mrs. Todd's love life and about Joanna - introduce other characters who do not influence the present but who are interesting, believable people.

In addition to character details, some of of the novella's major themes come into focus in this section. These chapters demonstrate preoccupations with regional geography, food, and the relationship between the individual and society.

Perhaps most immediate is the regional geography that Jewett explores. The Country of the Pointed Firs is a portrait of a small village, but Dunnet Landing and its surrounding area is anything but homogeneous. Jewett emphasizes this point by writing in detail about the region's physical and cultural geography. The landscape is described as dynamic and distinct, and the multitude of character types reveal how people are quite different even in these ostensibly simple areas. The narrator's excursion to Green Island highlights the differences between Dunnet Landing and its outlying islands. Up until this point, Jewett has characterized Dunnet as insular and parochial. However, the Blacketts' lifestyle on Green Island is liberated and even atavistic - this island, only a few miles from Dunnet, is a place where people like William can escape social convention and live in total communion with nature.

The remote Shell-Heap Island is an even starker example of this. While William and Mrs. Blackett stay in close contact with Dunnet, Joanna Todd lived a completely isolated life, surviving entirely off of the natural world. William has his mother as company, but Joanna had practically noone. In addition to Joanna's hermit lifestyle, the island also bears evidence of centuries of Native American habitation. The wide variety of lifestyles and natural landscapes in the novella demonstrate that despite its small population, Dunnet Landing is as rich and diverse as any other American locale. More than once in these stories, Mrs. Todd reflects on the fact that there is as much variety in people in the country as there is in the city. Jewett seems to agree.

Further, Jewett makes implicit connections between geography and personality. Joanna lives on a small, relatively rugged island because she wants to be a hermit. Mrs. Todd lives on the edge of town because she loves both nature and people. The implication is that geography either influences or reflects an individual's personality.

A strong food motif also appears in these chapters. We get detailed descriptions of how traditional New England dishes, like lobster and chowder, are prepared. The characters devote much of their time to getting ingredients for these dishes - Johnny Bowden goes lobstering while the narrator visits the Blacketts; the narrator digs for potatoes; Mrs. Todd and the narrator look for herbs in the pennyroyal meadow. This highlights the hardscrabble nature of life in Dunnet, where even prosperous people must constantly ensure that they have enough food to subsist. Further, it explains why people in Dunnet have such a personal connection to their food - it is a reflection of their toil and daily offerings. The emphasis on northeastern dishes and ingredients allows Jewett to take an apparently mundane element of daily life and imbue it with regionalist significance.

Perhaps most importantly, these chapters address the question of what it means for an individual to be part of society. This is a particularly relevant issue in a small village like Dunnet, where there are few opportunities for anonymity. Mrs. Blackett, Joanna Todd, and the narrator are all outsiders in Dunnet - Mrs. Blackett because of her preference to live on Green Island, Joanna because of her melancholy personality, and the narrator because of her status as an interloper. Mrs. Blackett and Joanna find that they contribute to society best by withdrawing from it. Although they do not live in Dunnet and rarely see the residents there, they continue to interact with the villagers and are well-loved in town. The narrator, in contrast, tries to compensate for her outsider status by learning as much as she can about her new surroundings. Though Jewett never explicitly pontificates on this question, she poses many examples of individuals who grapple with it, revealing it to be one of her major preoccupations in the work.