Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
While not one of Jewett’s best-known stories, “A Native of Winby” is typical of her better work. Jewett carefully presents four scenes of return, showing different kinds of welcome received by Senator Joseph K. Laneway when, after about fifty years, he visits Winby, the New England town where he was born and where he lived for thirteen years before his family went west. Laneway has been an enormously successful businessman, a Civil War general, and a leading United States senator from an influential western state. He is at first surprised and a little pleased to find that no one recognizes him in Winby. His anonymity allows him to make three quiet pilgrimages before the public can lionize him.
First he visits the country school he attended as a child. The story opens from the point of view of the young teacher, Marilla Hender, struggling to get her students to work on a warm May afternoon and inspiring them with reminders of their distinguished schoolmate, Senator Laneway. She and the students do not recognize him in the elderly visitor who asks to observe them for awhile. After he has enjoyed evoking his childhood memories, he identifies himself and gives them a short speech admonishing them to be brave and good.
As he walks on his second pilgrimage, he reflects that the first was not entirely satisfactory, even though it had its moments—noticing that his speech really inspired a few students and seeing the amusing caricature of...
(The entire section is 534 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
When Joseph K. Laneway was thirteen, he and his family left the New England town of Winby and headed west. Laneway also left behind his first love, Abby Harran. He rose to the rank of general in the Civil War, was elected senator from Kansota, and became rich. Now, back in Winby, people still talk about him; Marilla Hender, a teacher, repeatedly reminds her pupils that Laneway attended their school, where he paid more attention to his studies than they do and thus began his rise to fame.
Abby’s life is more difficult. The family farm always yielded more stones than crops. Her husband died young, as did her favorite son and his wife. To survive, she has had to work hard and live frugally.
One drowsy May afternoon, a stranger enters Marilla’s classroom. He listens to student recitations for a time, then, to the astonishment of the children, sits at one of the benches. When Marilla informs him, as she does all strangers, that Senator Laneway once sat in that room, he—Laneway—introduces himself. He delivers an address to the students; then, as he prepares to leave, Marilla urges him to visit her grandmother, Abby Harran Hender, who was once a classmate and who still talks about him.
Laneway spends the rest of the day wandering around the old town. He is saddened to discover that his family’s house has become a sheep meadow, and even the old walnut tree has been cut down. When he asks passersby whether any Laneways live in...
(The entire section is 530 words.)