Mary E. Wilkins Freeman has often been categorised as a local colorist, a New England writer of the post Civil-War period whose primary talent lays in depicting the peculiarities of her region. this view has tended to minimise her work. Certainly, she does offer a vivid sense of life in New England. Most significant, however, is the way in which she moves beyond region to offer a focus on the psychology of women's conflicts at the turn of the century. Her use of dialect may be compared with Mark Twain's as she manages to bring us the voices she knew with fine precision.
Although Cooke, and freeman, and Jewett certainly traded in melodrama and sentimentality, they also contributed their share to the Realism that Harriet Beecher Stowe had pioneered, creating memorable portraits of small towns and their people. In particular, they sought out and statements, sometimes of protest, sometimes of celebration, on be half of obscure female lives.
In “A Humble Romance” (1887) and “A New England Nun” (1891), she scrutinised the repressions that afflict village inhabitants, especially the women.
Like most of the regional writers, Freeman was more successful as a story writer than a novelist.
“Pembroke” (1894), “Silence and Other Stories” (1898), “The People of Our Neighbourhood” (1898), “The Portion of Labor” (1901), “The Givers”, “Short Stories” (1902), “The Shoulder of Atlas” (1908), “The Revolt of Mother” (1974).
SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BOTH STORIES
Firstly we will point out the following similarities:
In both stories women are the centre of the plot in a rural setting. More than men in her tales, it is Freeman's women who embody whatever remains of warmth and aspiration. In “A New England Nun” Louisa Ellis is the protagonist; in “The `Revolt' of Mother” is Sarah Penn.
Both texts talk about women who triumph and the process by which they achieve it.
We find the portrait of an individual (in this case a woman) who is in conflict with the society. In “A New England Nun” Louisa Ellis is in conflict with her fiancee while in “The Revolt of `Mother'” Sarah Penn is in conflict with her husband. Both women obtain the victory by their resistance to the power of tradition.
Both women make a decision which will change their lives and they are consequent with that decision in order to establish their own identity. These stories centre on questions of women's integrity, courage and privation.
“At five o'clock in the afternoon the little house in which the Penns had lived for forty years had emptied itself into the new barn”. “The Revolt of `Mother'”.
“I've got a good sense an' I ain't going to break my heart nor make a fool of myself; but I'm sure I'm never going to be married, you can be sure of that”. “A New England Nun”.
Women make the decision after a long period of time. Louisa Ellis makes up her mind after fifteen years and Sarah Penn after forty years.
“It is forty years now (...) an' you ain't built no house yet”. “The Revolt of `Mother'”.
“They were to be married in a month, after a singular courtship which had lasted for a matter of fifteen years.” “A New England Nun”.
Men interfere in the development of women's lives. In “A New England Nun” Joe Dagget interferes in Louisa's life when he comes back from Australia. In “The Revolt of `Mother'” Adoniram interferes in the development not only of Sarah's life but also of the whole family when he builds a new barn instead of a new and better house.
Both stories emphasise the routine of daily experience. Character's days pass in an outwardly uneventful sequence.
Secondly, we will stand out some differences between both stories:
Both protagonists have a different way of life; while Louisa Ellis is single and independent, Sarah Penn follows the standard of a 19th century woman (she is married and depends economically on her husband).
We find different conflicts in each story: In “A New England Nun” Louisa Ellis has been engaged to Joe Dagget for fifteen years and now that he is back she doesn't want to marry him. In “The Revolt of `Mother'” Sarah Penn faces his husband because he had promised her to build a new house to live in and, after forty years of marriage, he has built a new barn and not a new house.
While Louisa Ellis experiments certain fear or dislike of change and the unknown, Sarah Penn shows her rebellious character to achieve a change.
“Louisa's first emotion when Joe Dagget came home (...) was consternation, although she would not admit it to herself”. “A New England Nun”.
“I've got my own mind an' my own feet, an' I'm going to think my own thoughts an' go my own ways, an' nobody but the Lord is goin' to dictate to me unless I've a mind to have him”. “The Revolt of `Mother'”.
Community's influence in “A New England Nun” hardly appears, while in “The Revolt of `Mother'” we are more conscious of the speculations of the town.
Different attitudes: Louisa shows her calmness while Sarah shows her rebellious character.
Women in the 19th century (and how they are reflected in literature)
Women in both stories
Women in the 19th century (and how they are reflected in literature):
In the mid-nineteenth century, when Puritanism no longer dominated the imaginations of most American writers, and despite the break with tradition, many works from the modernist canon suggest a continued preoccupation with a spiritual realm, I mean, there is a preoccupation with the spiritual emptiness of the modern age and a quest for meaning beyond the temporal world. Despite the universality in American literature, a spiritual quest tradition mandates solitary flight from family and community which pointedly excludes women. Mythic heroes leave behind mothers and wives, sisters and lovers as they embark on solitary quests in search of spiritual truth, so in the American literary canon, maduration is linked to separation from the social repression embodied by women.
Traditional psychological theories are based on a male model for human development, taking the psychological development of women not as different, but deficient. These traditional theories have only changed in the last years, when researchers begin to see female psychology not as a failed version of the male model, but as a distinctive pattern of development. These researchers believe that women and have so different behaviours because they are socialized differently, that is, women and men develop different strengths, weakness and perceptions of the world.
In the mid-nineteenth century, writers of sentimental local color fiction became the first American authors to place domestic sphere at the centre of their texts. These writers reflected changes taking place in American economy and their effect on individual households. In the 19th century productive work was increasingly the domain of men and was located outside the household, while the home became a more exclusively female sphere. Women became increasingly occupied with the tasks of taking care of husbands and children physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Sentimental novelists of the period place female culture at the centre of their tales of domestic life and emphasise the role of religion in the home. I mean, domesticity serves not merely as the location of conventional religious practice, but as a religion in itself.
Church's religious hierarchy rejects the authority of human experience, substituting instead the authority of a minister. However, female spirituality rejects the patriarchal hierarchies of the conventional church. Home and domesticity serve as sources of spiritual truth.
At this point we must stand out the work of American women writers such as Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, who demand that domestic sphere not only represents the oppressive dimension of women's lives. Women transformate domestic sphere in a realm of comfort, healing and meaning, and domesticity becomes a potentially transformative source of wisdom and love. While transformations in men's texts were achieved through solitary journeys, in women's texts women achieve changes through ordinary and daily activities.
Domesticity represents an almost exclusively female domain, but it has traditionally been treated as the marginal backdrop for “significant” action carried out by men.
These women writers break with tradition and place domestic activities and places at the centre of the story. Furthermore, this break with tradition happens not only with the space where the action develops, but also with the protagonists of the story. But before we talk about the main characters of stories, we will state a last but important thing about the space.
We point out the substitution of the garden or the yard for the wilderness, which reinforces the idea that spiritual realm may be located in quite ordinary spaces of everyday lives, rather than on the horizon as tradition did.
Tradition used to tell male stories where female characters were peripheral: they had a second or even an invisible role. But now many women writers take female characters as the protagonists of their own story where they are the speaking subjects. Their stories serve as parables to guide younger women transcending barriers of age, race, etc., and moreover, these stories serve as a new form of truth telling that shows other alternatives to the dominant male story of spiritual quest.
Another difference appears when we talk about time. In traditional novels, men were the protagonists of the story. This story used to tell a journey of a man who lives a series of incidents or episodes looking for spiritual truth. In these stories time was linear, non repeatable and progressive as if this time pattern was given by nature. However, mythic time is very different in domestic fiction. It is not linear, but circular, suggesting that domestic tasks may function as sacred rites because for many traditional women, ritual is domestic, and it is a constant of everyday life.
Women in both stories
Louisa Ellis ( “A New England Nun”):
The personality of this character is mainly marked by her attention to detail and perfection. She wants everything to be tidy and she makes home's tasks as if it was a ritual. Domestic tasks are made everyday in a very special way, giving the particular satisfaction of an artist.
“ Louisa had almost the enthusiasm of an artist over the mere order and cleanliness of her solitary home.”
The calmness that dominates Louisa's life may be altered when her fiancee, Joe Dagget, comes back from Australia where he has been for fifteen years. She intuits that changes will probably produce if she accepts to marry him and she does not want to change her way of life. That is the reason why we clearly see the aversion this character shows to change.
“Then there were some peculiar features of her happy solitary life which she would probably be obliged to relinquish altogether”.
Despite of this feeling, Louisa assumes her independence but also the engagement when Joe is back, so, at first sight, she keeps following the tradition and the standards sat by the community. But at the end, she realises she wants to keep with her independent and solitary life, not because she finds out that Joe has been unfaithful to her, but because she does not want the kind if life that marriage implies. She rejects Joe and defend her interests without visibly doing so.
“Louisa Ellis had never known that she had any diplomacy in her, but when she came to look for it that night, she found it although meek of its kind, among her little femenine weapons.”
This loneliness of Louisa's situation is deeply related to the peace she feels. She is alone because she had chosen being alone, and despite of feeling sad, she feels peace and calmness because she is living the kind of life she wants. So Louisa's loneliness is not the product of the circumstances. Her loneliness is the product of her own election.
“long reach of future days strung together like pearls on a rosary, every one like the others, and all smooth and flawless and innocent.”
Sarah Penn ( “The Revolt of `Mother'”):
Instead of the calm that characterised Louisa's personality, the character of Sarah is marked by the surprising independent and rebellious spirit she shows when she rejects to keep on living in a poor house and decides to move the house into the new barn his husband has built, against the opinion of the last one. Sarah's rebellion is not only against her husband, she is also showing her own character and she is reacting against the role she is supposed to play in a society which has always treated women as secondary and submissive people.
“I've got my own mind an' my own feet an I'm goin' to think my own thoughts and' go my own ways, an' nobody but the Lord is goin' to dictate to me”.
She accepts her domestic role, but never permits her independent spirit to be stifled, so her apparently meekness is, as she said “the result of her own will, never of the will of another.”
Furthermore, Sarah tells her daughter, Nanny, that women must accept their fate and must “reckon men-folks in with Providence” as implacable, inexplicable forces. However, instead of taking her own advice, Sarah bravely challenges her husband's misshapen values, and secures a decisive triumph, an affirmation of her own dignity and her daughter's future, although we find a forgiving nature in her personality, despite the differences the couple may have.
“however deep a resentment she might be forced to hold against her husband, she would never fail in sedulous attention to his wants.”
Finally, we must stand out that her courage and force is compared to some historical figures along the story.
“full of meek vigor which might have characterised one of the New Testament saints,”; “pious New England Mother which was equal in its way to Wolfe's storming of the Heights of Abraham”; “The barn threshold might have been Plymouth Rock from her bearing.”
MEN IN BOTH STORIES
In 19th century society, the male represents the authority in the family and society and the female represents the domesticity, the gentleness and the loyalty to the husband. We clearly see these differences between both sexes in “The Revolt of `Mother'”, where Sarah asks her husband what a few men are doing in the yard and Adoniram answers her:
“ I wish you'd go into the house, mother, and tend to your own affairs”
So Adoniram Penn represents this male dominance over the female. His ideas represent the typical role of a man of the 19th century, a man who occupies of the work and who believes he does not have to explain everything he makes to his wife, who is supposed to attend to the home tasks and not to question what the husband makes.
But Adoniram experiments a change in his behaviour during the story. Sarah talks to him in order to expose the need of a new and better home for them and their children. During this discussion, Adoniram hardly expresses his opinions and he behaves as if he didn't care what his wife is claiming:
“I've got to go off after that load of gravel. I can't stan' here talkin' all day.”
But the biggest change in his behaviour is produced when he goes on a trip and comes back, seeing the changes his wife has stipulated with the home. In spite of being rude and maybe aggressive, he accepts Sarah's decision, he has no election:
“I'll - put up the - partitions an' everything you - want, mother”
In “A New England Nun” the role of the male is represented by Joe Dagget, who is Louisa's fiancee. He appears after fifteen years of absence, breaking Louisa's routinary life. Instead of showing directly that role of “male - dominance” that characterises men in this century, he shows an “apparently” gentle and faithful devotion for Louisa, although this devotion is the result of a compromise. He knows he engaged Louisa fifteen years ago and he knows he must be consequent with that compromise. Although what he really wanted to do was to keep having a relationship with Lily Dyer, his lover.
“I'm going to be honest enough to say that I think maybe it's better this way; but if you'd wanted to keep on, I'd have stuck to you till my dying day. I hope you know that.”
“I'm going right on an' get married next week. I ain't going back on a woman that's waited for me fourteen years, an' break her heart.”
But at the end, when Louisa talks to him about her desires of keeping single, he accepts her decision, which provides a satisfactory result for both Louisa Ellis and Joe Dagget.
LITERARY ANALYSIS: TITLE, STRUCTURE AND THEMES
Title and structure:
“A New England Nun”: The reason of the title of the story is that Louisa Ellis reflects the figure of a nun because she rejects marriage and motherhood. Thus, she volunteered to live confined at her solitary home, but doing what she likes most: she dedicates herself to the order of her home and routine (two important aspects in Freeman's narrative), state in which she waits calmly in expectation of the “...long reach future days strung together like pearls in a rosary, everyone like the others (...)”.
This correspondence between the figure of Louisa and that of a nun becomes obvious by means of the metaphorical rosary and the sentence which ends the story:” Louisa sat, prayerfully numbering her days, like an uncloistered nun.”
According to the structure, both stories follow a traditional structure divided into three parts: introduction, exposition and denouement.
The introduction involves the presentation of characters, setting and time. So this part provides the reader with a description of Louisa Ellis (main character) and the environment in which the action takes place (her house and surroundings). Consequently we can see Louisa's lifestyle and character, it means, how independent and solitary she is.
The introduction also includes the presentation of Joe Dagget (when he visits Louisa at her home), Lily Dyer and Joe's mother. Joe's visit could be considered an advance of the conflict, in which we are conscious of the tension between both characters: “ He was afraid to stir lest he should put a clumsy foot or hand through the fairy web, and he had always the consciousness that Louisa was watching fearfully lest he should.”
In the exposition the conflict between Louisa and Joe is described. It is introduced by a flashback which gives the reader a background of Louisa and Joe's relationship since they have engaged fifteen years ago. Because of their feeling of consternation when they see each other (after fifteen years separated), it becomes clear to the reader that they are not in love. However, they maintain the engagement. Thus, Louisa's internal conflict is found in her desire to remain single, or to follow through with the plans that the couple had agreed: “Then there were some peculiar features of her happy solitary life which she would probably be obligued to relinquish altogether” ; “(...) still she had always looked forward to his return and their marriage as the inevitable conclusion of things.”
The climax of the story is found in the conversation between Joe and Lily dyer, when they put a stop to their romance. The epiphany is placed here because at this moment Louisa realises that it is pointless keeping on with their relationship: “Louisa sat there in a daze, listening to their retreating steps” ; “ The next day (...) she did not sew on her wedding- clothes.”
The denouement narrates Louisa's decision which solves the conflict with Joe. She rejects Joe and, consequently, maintains her independence but she does it in a way that she could end the engagement and defend her interests, without visibly doing so: “she wanted to sound him without betraying too soon her own inclination in the matter.”
Joe also conceals his opinion about the matter, “for he was a s afraid of betraying himself as she”. Consequently, there is a satisfactory ending for both characters.
Louisa's victory is not in remaining single, but in making a decision she knows is necessary. She asserts her independence to herself and the society in order to maintain her lifestyle although she also must bear her loneliness.
“The Revolt of `Mother'”: According to the title, the first thing that must be explained is why `Mother' is put in quotation marks. It represents the figure of the mother as a queen of her home, who is in charge of keeping the house and taking care of the family, claiming that this role of `Mother' that plays the main character, Sarah Penn is the most important and significant in a family. Taking this explanation into account, the meaning of the title could be that `Mother' reacts against something that is supposed to be out of her domain. Thus, the title has an anticipatory function.
According to the structure, in this case the introduction includes a presentation of characters, setting, and the theme of the narrative. In this part the reader “meets” `Mother' (Sarah Penn), `Father' (Adoniram Penn) and their children (Nanny and Sammy Penn) and becomes aware of the main traits of these characters.
Moreover, it is given a description of the setting in which the events take place, which are the old farmhouse, the new barn and their surroundings. The author also shows the family conflict from its origin, where both Sarah and the reader find out about Adoniram is going to build a new barn instead of the new house he had promised: “A barn? You ain't goin' to build a barn over there where we was goin' to have a house, father?”.
The conflict reaches its peak in the exposition, where Sarah's heart-rending speech takes place. She claims the need of having a decent house to live in: “You see this room, father; it's all the one I've had to work in an' eat in an' sit in since we was married (...) An' this is all the room my daughter will have to be married in. Look here, father! (...) You're lodgin' your dumb beasts better than you are your own flesh an' blood. I want to know if you think it's right”. But the epiphany is placed after this “discussion” with Adoniram, while he is gone on a trip. At this moment, Sarah understands instantly that her chance to change things has arrived “Mrs. Penn's face, as she worked, changed (...)'Unsolicited opportunities are the guide-posts of the Lord to the new roads of life', she repeated in effect, and she made up her mind to her course of action.” Thus she decides to move the household into the new barn with her children's help.
The denouement exposes the consequences of Sarah's revolt.
The first consequence is related to the social outlook of Sarah's decision, given that the rumour of Sarah's rebellion was spread through the village: “There was a difference of opinion with regard to her. Some held her to be insane; some, of a lawless and rebellious spirit.” The author also introduces a new character, Mr. Hersey, who represents the pressure of society upon the protagonist. Then another relevant consequence of Sarah's decision was that of Adoniram's reaction when he finds out about the move. At first, it was a mixture of disapproval and astonishment, but then he `surrenders' and accepts filling out the new barn to make a house of it: “ Adoniram was like a fortress whose walls had no active resistance, and went down the instant the right besieging tools were used.” Thus, the story concludes with the triumph of Sarah.
The central themes in “A New England Nun” and “The Revolt of `Mother'” are all entwined and related to each other, taking the figure of the woman as a basis. So they could be painted out as follows:
Women that face a conflict making their own decisions and being consequent with them: the main character must make decisions about conformity and her identity.
In “A New England Nun” Louisa Ellis ends her engagement in order to preserve her lifestyle, and in “The Revolt of `Mother'” Sarah Penn moves to the new barn to leave the hut in which the family had to live. But they also know what the possible consequences of their decisions are (loneliness, speculations of the town...) and they face up to it.
Search of woman's identity: In both stories Louisa and Sarah find out about their situation, and because of this, they try to solve their problems. During this process, they achieve their identities and expectatives. For instance, in “A New England Nun”, the fact of being alone becomes part of Louisa's identity, and in order to preserve it, she does not get married. In “The Revolt of `Mother'” it is a matter of dignity, and Sarah becomes aware that she must have the right to decide for herself. Moreover, domestic tasks are emphasised and seen as a part of a woman's identity. On the one hand, Louisa's customs are considered elements of her life that bring her the most joy and satisfaction. On the other hand, Sarah's domestic chores represent both the submissiveness to her husband and a relief (it is, cleaning-up instead of complaining). It is also important to point out the correspondence that the author establishes between domesticity and art: “Louisa had almost the enthusiasm of an artist over the mere order and cleanliness of her solitary home”; “She (Sarah) was like an artist so perfect that he has apparently no art.”.
Individual in conflict with the community: (as an influence of Realism), relativistic- relations between people and society are explored. These relations are influenced by factors such as patriarchal society and morality. Freeman uses the strict conservative values as a backdrop for her narratives. According to these values, women's roles came down to marriage and motherhood. Thus, they were economically dependent and subordinate to the husband. Furthermore, morality makes up the basis of such traditional values, everything which is not accepted by religion won't be accepted by society. However, both Louisa and Sarah do not follow the standard of a 19th century woman; Louisa is economically independent and single, and Sarah goes against the dominance of her husband. However, they rebel following a Christian moral.
Nevertheless, the most important conflict in these two stories is that manifested in main characters' relationships with men. In their interactions with these men, both women establish their identities by the decisions they make. So Louisa's rebellion is a personal one ( she wants to maintain her independence), while Sarah's revolt is familiar (she looks after her family and herself).
Recognition of women's rights: As a woman, Freeman accurately describes the struggles that women encounter. In order to avoid censorship, Freeman shows the rebellious content of her stories disguised as acceptable, domestic scenes of female submission. Indeed, in “A New England Nun” as in “The Revolt of `Mother'” the author deals with questions such as female subordination an lack of power and offers a subtle way to face up to these problems. So in “A New England Nun” Freeman vindicates the women's right of being independent and the right of choosing the kind of life they want to live without being considered promiscuous or unmoral.
In “The Revolt of `Mother'” the author is setting a norm for women in being decisive, independent and intelligent (all characteristics traditionally thought to be male).
NARRATOR, TIME, SPACE, CHARACTERS
Narrator (in both stories):
The narrator in both stories is an heterodiegetic narrator who does know the story and thoughts of all the characters, and tells a story different to her own. Consequently, the narrator tells us the story about two women and their ways of facing a conflict.
Another aspect that must be taken into account is the narrator's point of view. In this case, in “A New England Nun” as in “The Revolt of `Mother'” the mode of narration that we find is the neutral omniscience. We are talking about a 3rd person narrator who has voice and knows everything about characters' lives, dreams, thoughts and intentions.
There is no direct authorial intrusion: the narrator just tells the story and the reasoning of her characters' mind, and does not give her own opinion about the matter. Moreover, she makes use of selective omniscience to confer greater objectivity to the narrative. In the two stories the focaliser is the main character (female). In “A New England Nun” the focaliser is Louisa, we see reality by her perspective. This mode of narration is found in that part in which Louisa imagines her dog Caesar devastating everything that lay in its path: “She pictured to herself Caesar on the rampage through the quiet and unguarded village. She saw innocent children bleeding in its path”.
In “The Revolt of `Mother'”, the narrator filters reality through Sarah's eyes. An example that illustrates this point is when she sees the possibilities of the new barn to make a comfortable house of it: “Sarah Penn saw at a glance its possibilities. (...) with partitions and windows, what a house would there be!”.
There are also signs of multiple selective omniscience that offer the reader a multiplicity of angles to interpret the story. For instance, in “A New England Nun” focalisers are Louisa and Joe. The reader sees the relationship between both characters by their perspective, it is, how they feel for each other: “(she) was, he considered, every whit and attractive as ever (...) but finally it seemed to him that although the winds sang always that one song (Louisa), it had another name.” “She had visions (...) of dust and disorder arising necessarily from a coarse masculine presence in the midst of all this delicate harmony.”
On the other hand, multiple selective omniscience is not found in “The Revolt of `Mother'”,
Another concept that must be shown up is that of the reliability of the narrator. Although the narrator selects facts, it can be considered a reliable narrator. The reasons why we could “trust” the narrator are the following:
The use of neutral and selective omniscience, as it was said before, confers objectivity to the narrative. There are not authorial comments nor evaluations, and the vision belongs to characters.
Mimetic techniques also contribute to give verisimilitude to the discourse. The narrator offers detailed descriptions to present reality accurately. She also uses the direct discourse (dialogues), and the free indirect discourse. In “A New England Nun” this feature is found when Louisa and Joe break the engagement: “She never mentioned Lily Dyer. She simply said that while she had no cause of complaint against him, she had lived so long in one way that she shrank from making a change”.
Topics and events related by the narrator are also verisimile, she treats the common, the non-extreme, the probable. Indeed, Freeman puts emphasis on the routine of daily life. She uses the words, habits, and attitudes to depict the setting and culture of small towns in New England.
External time (in both stories):
The external time (or time of the story) shows the historical point at which the narrated events take place, it is, at the late 19th century. Although we know it is the time of the story, there are not specific references to it. The story chronological order is lineal, this means that events follow a cause/effect relationship.
- “A New England Nun”:
The internal time (time of discourse) can be divided into two parts: the present time and the past time. The present time is placed in summer, about a month before the wedding: “(...) and the dust flew;(...) little swarms of flies were dancing up and down before the people's faces in the soft air”.
We find an ellipsis that moves the time of discourse from a month before the wedding to one week before it: “It was a Tuesday evening, and the wedding was to be a week from Wednesday.”
There are also descriptive pauses, where the setting is described in detail. The past time involves the fifteen years of engagement, so discourse chronological order is not lineal (there is no cause/effect relationship). This fact leads to a dislocation between the story order and the discourse order, because of two flashbacks. The first flashback provides us with information about Louisa and Joe's engagement: “For fourteen out of the fifteen years the two had not once seen each other”. The second one tells Caesar's story, giving the reason for its captivity. The dog had bitten a neighbour fourteen years ago: “ and it was all on account of a sin committed when hardly out of his puppyhood (...). It was now fourteen years since(...) he had inflected that memorable bite.”
- “The Revolt of `Mother'”:
The internal time is placed in spring and part of summer: “The spring air, full of the smell of growing grass an unseen blossoms, came in their faces.”
So the narrated events take place on present time. Unlike “A New England Nun”, discourse chronological order is lineal, so it coincides with the story order, in that there is no anachrony. Here we find descriptive pauses where setting and characters are described: “the deep yard in front was littered with farm wagons and piles of wood; on the edges,(...) the grass was a vivid green, and there were some dandelions.” and scenes in which there is a predominance of dialogue: “ -I want to know what you're buildin' that new barn for, father?, - I ain't got nothin' to say about it.”
The author uses both techniques to compensate the extent of descriptions for the brevity of the dialogues. There is also an ellipsis from spring to summer: “ The barn was all completed ready for use by the third week in July”.
Space of story: the space of story in both texts is located in the familiar setting of small New England towns. There are also specific references to other real places, such as Australia ( “A New England Nun”) and Vermont (“The Revolt of `Mother'”). So the author follows the norm of Realism and Regionalism by which fiction is focused on characters, dialect, topography, and other features particular to an specific region. The setting is familiar to the writer, who makes up detailed descriptions of it. This presentation of reality provides verisimilitude to the narrative.
Space of discourse:
In “A New England Nun” the majority of the action takes place in Louisa's house, where her character and lifestyle are described. This space has symbolical effects, because it operates almost as a character. Thus, the reader realises of the connection between Louisa and her home, in that the order and cleanliness of the house reveal Louisa's personality. But there is another space where the action takes place: the road. It is here, in the “outside world”, where Louisa realises that her life is not there, but in the solitude and harmony of her home. So we can say that there is a close relationship between space and characters.
In “The Revolt of `Mother'” the action develops between two different spaces that are the farmhouse and the new barn with their environments. Both places are also linked to characters, so they are also symbolic spaces. The emphasis is put on nature and the different characteristics that it presents in each environment. The barn surroundings are arid, full of dust, and the house's yard is flourishing and vivid.
According to the Realistic techniques used by Freeman, characters are more important than plot. Main characters are studied in depth. They are superior to circumstances, because they can control their destines. The author is also influenced by Local Colorism, in that she captures not only their customs and attitudes, but also their dialect.
Characters in both stories are divided into two categories: main characters and secondary characters.
Main characters in Freeman's stories are round female characters, whose reasoning and interior life are faithfully depicted.
“A New England Nun”:
The main character in this story is Louisa Ellis, in that plot focuses on her desire for remaining alone and maintaining her lifestyle: “Louisa's feet had turned into a path (...), so narrow that there was no room for any one at her side.” This character is classified as a round one, more individualised and belonging to the everyday world. Louisa can be defined as an independent and organised woman.
The secondary characters are Joe Dagget, Lily Dyer, Joe's mother and the community. They all are classified as flat characters, constructed by a dominant trait.
Joe Dagget is Louisa's fiancee. Although he has an affair with Lily Dyer, he maintains the engagement because he considers it is his due. He represents the idea of intrusion and change.He supposes a threat to Louisa's lifestyle: “He took them up one after the other and opened them; then laid them down again, the album on the Gift-Book.”
Lily Dyer is the housekeeper of Joe's mother and his lover. She is fallen in love with Joe, but she must accept he is engaged to Louisa (although she does not share his opinion). She is described as a fair looking girl, and is considered a good and elegant woman by the community: “Lily Dyer was a favourite with the village folk; she had just the qualities to arouse the admiration.”
Joe's mother is just mentioned in the story. She is an old, weak woman who apparently shares the opinion of the community regarding Louisa. The reader becomes aware of this by means of the author's description: “by-and-by her still must be laid away (...). Then Joe's mother would think it foolishness; she had already hinted her opinion in the matter.”
Louisa's mother is also mentioned. She died while Joe was in Australia. She was also a traditional woman, in that she shows out her opinion about marriage, and consequently Louisa accepts Joe with no hesitation. Her most prominent trait is that of intelligence: “Her mother... presented himself.”
Louisa's brother is just mentioned as the owner of Caesar. He decided to tie up his dog instead of killing it.
We can also consider the community as a character. Its role is that of speculating or criticising all what main character does. This fact is implied in this story with Freeman only mentioning the whisperings of the neighbours and the lonely social outlook of Louisa's life. An example that illustrates this is that regarding Louisa's use of her china: “Louisa used china everyday- something which none of her neighbours did. They whispered about it among themselves.”
“The Revolt of `Mother'”:
The main character here is Sarah Penn (“Mother”). Throughout the story, she fights for her right to decide what is the very best to her family and her. Thus, she reacts against her husband's authority(and, by extent, against the traditions of a patriarchal society.)
Sarah's psychological structure is that of a round character, more individualised and complex than secondary ones. She could be defined as an independent woman with a rebellious spirit, although there also appear features of submission to her husband and, therefore, old-fashioned ways. This is exemplified by means of Sarah's speech telling her daughter the rigid values of society: “You ain't seen enough of men-folks yet to. (...)an' how we'd ought to reckon men-folks in with Providence, an' not complain of what they do any more than we do of weather.”
The secondary characters of this story are Adoniram, Nanny, and Sammy Penn, Mr. Hersey, the hired man, George Eastman and the community. All of them are flat characters (formed by means of a prominent feature of their psychological structure).
Adoniram Penn ( “Father”) depicts the male dominance over the female. He is described as an old, rough man with an “(old) bristling face”, for whom his livestock has more worth than his own family. Nevertheless, he finally understands he has done wrong and accepts his wife's decision: “I'll put up the-partitions, an' -everything you- want, mother.”
Nanny Penn is the elder sister. She is engaged and consequently worried about having a wedding at their house, in that she wishes for a better one. The author presents Nanny as a delicate and beautiful girl, whose most prominent trait is naivety. She knows nothing about life and men: ”You ain't found out yet we're women-folks, Nanny Penn, (...)You ain't seen enough of men-folks yet to.” When Nanny realises of her mother's decision she gets surprised, but she helps Sarah without any complaint. Nanny also fears her father's reaction, in that he represents authority in the family: “... Nanny was full of nervous tremors”. But both she and Sammy confide in their mother: “An inborn confidence in their mother over their father asserted itself.”
Sammy Penn is Nanny's younger brother and the only one in the family who knows about the building of the barn. Sammy is a sly little boy that tries to look as if he were a man. Thus, he imitates his father's voice and gestures: ”Sammy only grunted after an odd fashion for a boy; he had learned it from his father.” Although he seems to pay attention to his mother, he also helps her to move their belongings to the new barn. We see again Sammy's efforts to be “a man” when he faces up to his father (at the end of the story), even though he was frightened as his sister: “Nanny kept behind her mother, but Sammy stopped suddenly forward (...) `We're come here to live, father' said Sammy. His shrill voice quavered out bravely.”
Mr. Hersey is the village minister that represents the moral establishment. He makes a brief appearance in the story, where he visits Sarah penn to the new barn to convince her that maybe she is doing wrong (and that her behaviour is unorthodox for a woman), but he has not arguments to refute hers. He is described as a pathetic sickly man who can only talk about the Scriptures but not about things that are beyond religion: “he was a sickly man, (...) he had to scourge himself up to some of his pastoral duties as relentlessly as a Catholic ascetic, and then he was postrated by the smart.”
The hired man (whose name is not mentioned in the story) is a neighbour's son that works in the new barn. He is the person who spread the rumour among the folks that Sarah had moved to the new barn with her children: “Before the next morning he had spread the story of Adoniram Penn's wife moving into the new barn all over the little village.” He could be defined as the link between Penn's family and society.
There are other characters just mentioned in the story, like George Eastman (Nanny's suitor), Hiram (Sarah's brother, who lives in Vermont) and Mrs. Hersey (the minister's wife).
LITERARY RESOURCES, VOCABULARY AND SYMBOLS
Literary resources and vocabulary (both stories):
Freeman, as a regionalist writer, puts emphasis on local color settings and characters. So in order to depict these features as faithfully as possible, she uses detailed descriptions. The description of characters involves not only their appearance, but their psycho, and customs, features that present them objectively and truthfully. Th landscape is also described to make the sense of place an important element to the story. These descriptions are illustrated by comparisons that make the narrated scenes familiar to the reader.
“A girl full of a calm rustic strength and bloom, with a masterful way which might have beseemed a princess.” “A New England Nun”
As regards vocabulary, there is a distinction between the vocabulary used in narration and descriptions and that of the speech. In the first, the author makes use of adjectives and the language is formal and poetic: “It was late in the afternoon, and the light was waning (...). There seemed to be a gentle stir arising over everything for the mere sake of subsidence- a very premonition of rest and hush and night.”
On the other hand, in dialogues the diction is natural vernacular, not heightened or poetic. The characters are marked by dialect, which joins them to a particular region: “I tell ye I ain't got nothin' to say about it, mother; an' I ain't goin' to say nothin'.”
Symbols (both stories):
“A New England Nun”:
Louisa's pet: they are symbols of Louisa's captivity. Louisa's pets, like her, are living lives that are different from the way they would exist naturally. Thus, as the dog is chained and the canary is caged, Louisa is confined at her home voluntarily, and rejects her natural inclinations to motherhood.
The yellow canary: It symbolises the way how Louisa is seen by Joe, I mean, the woman is considered to me a mere decorative object with the only function of being wife and mother. Moreover, the canary's wild fluttering when Joe appears reflects Louisa's anxiety over change. For Louisa Joe supposes a threat to her security and serenity.
The dog Caesar represents the way in which Louisa sees herself. Caesar has been chained for the same period of time that Joe has been away. This fact leads us to interpret that both Caesar and Louisa are tied to something because of a mistake that they committed. Caesar bit a neighbour, so its punishment consists on remain chained; Louisa was engaged, so she had to be tied to this promise and renounce to her independence.
The author also emphasises the hermit- like existence that Caesar endures under the worried eye of Louisa (who is also an hermit). Th fear she feels of taking the dog out is linked to her fear for the unknown. Thus, she prefers to stay at home instead of going to a strange house and changing her customs.
Louisa's home: it is linked to the idea of harmony, order and serenity. The house represents the known.
“The Revolt of `Mother'”:
Barn and its environment: it represents men's world, the world of work. Penn's yard is littered with farm wagons, piles of wood, and there are only noises of men working. This environment represents the dominance of technology and man over nature (identified with women). The dry and arid landscape can be compared to Adoniram's character, serious and rasped.
House and its environment: it symbolises the female dominance (the house). This domain is linked to serenity. The landscape is flourished, the yard is full of vivid green grass, and the air is gentle, warm, and fragant, like a woman.
LOCAL COLOR FICTION:
Local color fiction focuses on the characters, dialect, customs, topography and other features particular to an specific region. Influenced by South-western and Down East humor, between the Civil War and the end of the19th century, this mode of writing became dominant in American Literature. Its customary form is the sketch or short story because according to Nineteenth Century American Women Writers: a Critical Reader
“(...)this form made it possible to tell stories about elderly women,
about women for whom the eventful means something other than
marriage, about women in relation to each other, about women who
take care of themselves”
The main characteristics of local color fiction are related to setting and characters. Thus, when talking about setting there is a big emphasis on nature and the limitations it imposes. The setting is integral to the story and may sometimes become a character in itself.
As regards characters, they are marked by their adherence to the old ways, by dialect and by particular personality traits central to the region. In women's local color fiction, the heroines are often unmarried women or young girls.(Although “The Revolt of `Mother'” does not follow this norm)
Furthermore, many local color stories share a common theme: the antipathy to change and a certain degree of nostalgia for an always past golden age.