Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Growing up in the later nineteenth century in what he referred to as the Middle Border—western Wisconsin, northeastern Iowa, and southern South Dakota—Hamlin Garland learned what it meant to live and work on a family farm. What gave him a perspective on this life, however, was his subsequent gravitation to Boston in the 1880’s to work as a journalist and writer of fiction. When, after several years in the East, he twice revisited the Middle Border, he was struck anew by the bleakness of the life his family had led and was still leading. The stories in his Main-Travelled Roads: Six Mississippi Valley Stories (1891), of which “Mrs. Ripley’s Trip” is the last, interpret the territory of his early life in the light of the possibilities for personal fulfillment of which he had since become aware.

In these stories, Garland highlights the physical characteristics of midwestern farm life and their effects on the human spirit. The weather, for instance, proved characteristically harsh and undependable. In November, the time of this story, a snowstorm descends on Ethan as he makes his way to town to raise the money for his wife’s ticket. It is clear from the Ripleys’ poverty—the only light they can afford in their house is a candle—that weather has often been no more propitious during the growing season. The physical demands on both have long since worn them down. Jane Ripley is described in the first paragraph of the story as...

(The entire section is 579 words.)