Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Candace’s deathbed criticism of Alma’s singing highlights a key concern of the story. Alma’s name means “soul” in Latin, but as Candace’s last words state, Alma lacks something in that department. By agreeing to replace Candace, Alma has sided with the church’s male hierarchy, which in turn supports her against her independent predecessor. Alma sacrifices her freedom—she is going to marry Wilson—for male approval that requires her to supplant Candace.

Alma’s failure to live up to her name results not only in her betrayal of a woman in siding with the village patriarchy but also in her rejection of the past. Candace, in her conversation with the minister, notes that manners and tastes are changing: “Folks are gettin’ as high-steppin’ an’ fussy in a meetin’-house as they are in a tavern, nowadays.” Even in an isolated New England village, new attitudes are intruding to banish reverence for old ways and old people. Candace is evicted from her post; her sister will be left to live alone when Wilson marries Alma and moves into Candace’s cottage.

Local color stories seek to preserve a vanishing world. In “A Village Singer,” Freeman achieves this goal by recording the language and life of rural New England. Candace speaks in the cadences and dialect of her native place. In this village, social activities revolve around the church. Freeman’s description of Candace’s house also captures the past as it links Candace to the Old World. Candace has hung looped lace curtains at her window and grows lilacs—the quintessential New England flowering shrub—and a rose tree in her garden. She receives the minister in her parlor, which is furnished with a rocking chair and another seat upholstered in haircloth. Significantly, the choir gives Candace a photograph album to hold the images of her past. Freeman’s stories such as “A Village Singer” serve this same purpose of capturing between covers snapshots of what was but no longer is.