Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
“A New England Nun” is a rich example of local-color writing. It presents the people and occupations of a New England farming town in such a way as to capture the feel of the time and place involved. Louisa Ellis becomes real to the reader as a simple person who must choose between two clear and mutually exclusive options. The narrator, by giving snatches of Joe’s perceptions but concentrating on Louisa’s, takes the reader into Louisa’s mind as she makes her choice.
The details are carefully chosen to reveal character and to emphasize elements of Louisa’s dilemma. At home, for example, she wears three aprons—a green gingham apron for working, a calico apron for sewing, and a white linen apron for company. She removes the top two for Joe’s visit. The three aprons suggest the defenses Louisa has put up against intimacy. Her attitude toward her two animals, old Caesar and her little yellow canary, represent how she regards feelings and drives. Old Caesar has been chained for fourteen years and is reputed to be dangerous because he once bit somebody, although now he is a sad, fat old dog fed only on light vegetarian fare to avoid inciting him to violence.
It is suggestive that Caesar has been chained for the length of time Joe was away. Now Louisa is afraid that Joe will set Caesar free to ravage the neighborhood. The little yellow canary goes into a panic whenever Joe enters the house, but when the threat of marriage is over, it...
(The entire section is 547 words.)
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