A New England Nun


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Mary Wilkins Freeman was born, raised and spent the majority of her

life in Puritan rural New England. This scene had a huge impact on her

writing. Most of her novels and short stories had the ability to depict that

lifestyle perfectly. One of the best examples of this is her story “A New

England Nun.” (Fiction)

The main characters in this story are Louisa Ellis and Joe Dagget.

Other important characters are Caesar, the dog, and Lily Dyer. Louisa is

described as very dainty, precise, and methodical. She lives alone in her

small house and rarely goes to town. When we first meet her, she is sewing

her wedding dress. When she gets up to make tea, she places her things down

with much care. She puts on a green apron over her pink one. She uses china

everyday when most people in the village don’t even have any. But she

doesn’t hold herself up on a pedestal. She does these rituals not for necessity,

but for pleasure. When she sews, by hand, she likes to sew a seam and rip it

out for the pure gratification of stitching it back up again. She also enjoys

making essential oils form the fruits and flowers in her garden. She does not

do this for money but to have such nice things in her home. She is the essence

peacefulness and calmness. (Literature)

Her exact opposite is Joe Dagget. He has been engaged to be married

to Louisa for the last fourteen years. He has been in Australia making his

fortune to bring back to his bride-to-be. Although we don’t know exactly what

he was doing, we are lead to believe that it is a very masculine, dirty job. He

is the same. He is very rugged and always slightly dusty. Although he has a

rough exterior, on the inside he is a loving, caring, loyal man. It is made clear

from our first encounter of Joe and Louisa. Even if it was uncomfortable and

stiff, he still comes every day. Early on in the story, the author uses the

symbolism of a sweet love wind to describe their feelings towards each other.

Louisa’s “love song” was very weak. It was not angry, or pathetic, or lonely,

or longing. It had “never more than murmured.” As opposed to Joe’s song,

which was loud, strong and robust. But his song “had another name.” That is

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where Lily Dyer comes in. (Literature)

Lily Dyer is the care giver of Joe’s mother. Towards the end of the

story we find out that Joe is in love with her, but will stay faithful and honest

to Louisa, despite their feelings for each other. She is described as the

opposite of Louisa. She is strong and kind of manly. Everyone likes her and

she is a well accepted and has a high reputation in the town. This love

scandal is the external conflict in this story. But the real conflict is how

Louisa reacts to finding out. She simply lets Joe go. She is actually surprised

by how easy it was and how little she felt. We knew she wasn’t going to

marry Joe before their conversation. The day after she found out, she did all

of her daily rituals except for sewing her wedding dress. (Literature)

Through out the story, Louisa was worried about her married life.

When Joe was walking to the door, she scurries to take off her green aron and

her pink apron. She takes them off individually and fold them. She then puts

on a white apron she wears around guests. She was worried about her fiancée

seeing her in an indecent attire. And she was flustered when he finally

arrived. Every time Joe would enter her house, the canary would squawk and

screech as a sign of warning. While they are attempting a conversation about

the weather, work and family, Joe picks up the books on the table and puts

them back in the wrong order. She then gets nervous then arranges them in

the proper order. When he finally leaves, she can’t wait to get the broom and

dust pan to clean up the dirt that she has anticipated. When feeding Caesar,

her dead brother’s dog, she has visions of her life after the wedding as being

bloody and doomed. She has to move out of the comfort of her own home and

give up her beloved daily patterns and take care for Joe and his mother. This

behavior might come from the fact that both her mother and brother died

around the same time. The security of these chores may have been comforting

to a mourning young woman. But she found happiness in these mundane

things. She felt bliss and completion when everything was put into place. She

is scared that these joys must now change, when she has depended on them

for so long. (Literature)

In my opinion, Louisa Ellis is not a woman to be pitied, but envied.

She has found what all women want at the end of the day. Happiness, pride,

comfort, and security. She is perfectly happy, independent, and content with

herself. She is just like a nun. Louisa is happy with the choices she has made

in her life. And she doesn’t regret any decisions. (Literature)

Freeman, Mary Wilkins “A New England Nun.” Fiction 100: An Anthology Of Short Fiction. 11th ed. ED. James H. Pickering. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997.1388

Freeman, Mary Wilkins “A New England Nun.” Literature. 5th ed. ED. James Pickering and Jeffrey Hoeper. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997. 203-211.


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