Marjorie Rawlings’s short story “A Mother in Mannville” was first published in 1936, and is considered by many to be her most autobiographical work of fiction. It was published in a book containing all of her short fiction in the aptly named collection, Short Stories, in 1994. Rawlings is most notably known for The Yearling, her 1938 novel for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1939. “A Mother in Mannville” is a touching, honest literary work that centers on two characters: the narrator, and a boy named Jerry. Through her vivid descriptions of both characters, in addition to the simple, yet revealing dialogue, Rawlings creates a story rich in characterization.
The story takes place in a cottage maintained by an orphanage in the Carolina mountains. The narrator, presumably a woman, has come to the cottage seeking a quiet place to write. She meets Jerry, a twelve-year-old who has been at the orphanage since he was four; Jerry has been sent to help perform odd jobs for her. She quickly discovers Jerry is not only quite strong for his size and age, but is also ambitious and kind. As the story progresses and the two characters grow closer, Jerry reveals that he has a mother in Mannville, a neighboring town. He tells the narrator that his mother sends him gifts, and the narrator is bewildered that a mother would willingly give up her child.
Before leaving, the narrator stops at the orphanage to say goodbye to Jerry, and to leave money for the headmistress to purchase gifts for Jerry on holidays and birthdays. It is then that Rawlings ends her story with a dose of irony: Jerry has not been receiving gifts from his mother in Mannville; in fact, Jerry does not have a mother.
Like many southern writers, Rawlings approached her writing with honesty and integrity; “A Mother in Mannville” is no exception. Through her use of characterization and dialogue, the readers easily join the narrator in loving and sympathizing with Jerry. “A Mother in Mannville” is a poignant, heartbreaking tale that helped to solidify Rawlings’s place in the world of short fiction.