Local-color writing provides a sketch of a particular time and place, usually with sympathetic portrayals of local types and suggestions of the interrelationship between a locale and those who inhabit it. “A New England Nun” does these things skillfully. Its descriptive passages capture the New England area Mary E. Wilkins Freeman knew so well. Freeman was born in Massachusetts in 1852 and remained in New England until 1902, when she married and moved away, but continued to write about her New England background and the remnants of Puritanism that still laced the society in which she grew up.
The details of Louisa’s life suggest what the community she belongs to is like, and show the limitations of her options. Every small detail has its implication: that Louisa’s neighbors talk about her daily use of her good china, for instance, suggests that there is little to talk about in the village and that there is not much room for individual eccentricity. It also indicates that someone who values privacy is going to have to work hard for it. The dialogue in the story also captures character, although it is not dialect, as it is in some local-color stories. It is clear that Louisa’s more educated tones do not match Joe’s plainer speech, giving another hint at the incompatibility of the two for marriage. The narrator’s somewhat negative assessment of Louisa’s choice of serenity and a peaceful narrowness does not reduce the reader’s sympathy for a woman who has only two choices and a great deal to lose either way.