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"The Revolt of 'Mother'" shows clearly, through the character of Sarah Penn, the daily life of a farm wife and mother in New England toward the close of the 19th Century. It is a life of domination and dependence. Married to Adoniram Penn for forty years, Sarah has born their children, done the many household chores, taken care of her husband, and bowed to his will without complaint. Sarah is a good woman and a good wife, strong, loving, and capable, but she has no power in the decision making that affects her children's lives and her own. Her husband makes the decisions for the family; the idea of consulting Sarah never enters his mind. Sharing power in her own home is not part of Sarah's role, and her husband does not expect to be questioned.
When her husband begins building a barn on the land where Sarah had been promised a new house forty years earlier, she breaks her usual silence in regard to Adoniram's actions. It takes courage for her to speak her mind, but Sarah does so because she and her children deserve a decent place to live. It is such an unusual expression of independence that her husband is rendered almost speechless; he has no experience discussing with his wife how his money will be spent. Adoniram is entirely focused on the farm. He does not recognize his wife's feelings or needs.
During Adoniram's absence when Sarah "revolts" against his domination, she exercises real power in their marriage for the first time, moving her entire household into the new barn. Sarah takes such extreme action not to hurt or defy her husband, but simply to achieve some basic fairness in her marriage. Adoniram seems to experience a mild case of shock when he comes home to find what she has done.
The story concludes with Sarah's husband crying tears of contrition as he realizes how he had failed his wife by being so blind to her feelings and her needs. His promising to turn the new barn into a real home for Sarah suggests that in the future, he and Sarah will have a more meaningful marriage.
Also, the minister's visit during Adoniram's absence emphasizes the social forces that restricted a woman's behavior at that time. When news spreads through the community nearby that Sarah has taken over her husband's new barn, the minister comes calling to make her understand her behavior is very unacceptable. Sarah's independence is shocking and even a bit threatening to him. When Sarah continues to think and act for herself, the minister gives up trying to influence her. Sarah Penn is beyond his understanding.
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