(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Miss Tempy’s Watchers” is one of a number of Jewett’s subtle and moving tales of the lives of older women who must deal with loss and hardship. Just before they drift off into a short sleep, as Sarah Ann Binson and Mrs. Crowe watch together in Tempy’s house, Mrs. Crowe reflects that Tempy—Temperence Dent—always made the best of everything. For example, she made excellent quince preserves by taking care of a thorny old tree with such attention and good cheer that she seemed to “kind of expect” it into blooming. Sarah replies, “She was just the same with folks.” This is a story about blooming—about how, with the deceased Tempy’s help, Sarah begins to replace her, and so helps Mrs. Crowe to begin to bloom into a more generous person.

Tempy’s spirit hovers over a scene she has created by asking her two friends to watch together in her house. The women reflect repeatedly upon how they seem to feel Tempy’s living presence as they converse through the night, and the narrator adds touches that contribute to the reader believing that Tempy is spiritually present even apart from her friends’ memories and talk. Left alone together for the long night, the women find themselves confiding private thoughts and fears.

Mrs. Crowe, especially, has much to confess. Tempy’s death has made her feel more than ever the pain of her stinginess. Because she is rich and socially powerful, Mrs. Crowe’s small contributions to the...

(The entire section is 596 words.)

Miss Tempy's Watchers Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The two main characters, Mrs. Crowe and Sarah Ann Binson, fulfill the request of their deceased friend, Temperance “Tempy” Dent. Before she died, Tempy asked that the two, who had been schoolmates and her friends, “come together and look after the house, and manage everything, when she was gone.” The story, which has very little plot, is about what is revealed about the women through the commentator or narrator, through their conversations, and through their reactions to each other and to the immediate environment in which they find themselves.

Mrs. Crowe and Sarah Ann Binson pass the hours of their long watch over Tempy and her things by talking, knitting, sewing, eating, and sleeping. Their conversation touches on Tempy: her virtues, her life, and her good deeds. As they reminisce, they reveal Tempy’s character along with their own dominant character traits. Each shares secrets she did not intend to share. Each reveals a part of herself never shown before. As the night and the conversation progress, these women, between whom there are numerous differences, are drawn together.

Mrs. Crowe, mentioned first in the story, is considered superior to Sarah Ann Binson. Mrs. Crowe, who enjoys the respect of being referred to as “Mrs.” throughout the story, is married to a wealthy farmer. She is stingy, rigid, composed. Sarah Ann, who is called “Sarah” throughout most of the story, is also referred to as Sarah Ann Binson, Sister...

(The entire section is 439 words.)