Spoon River Anthology Questions and Answers
by Edgar Lee Masters

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In Edgar Lee Master's poem, "Mrs. Kessler," what exactly does it mean? Is Mrs. Kessler a busybody or is she a nice woman providing for her family?

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Masters does not seem to want his readers to view Mrs. Kessler as either a busybody or a nice woman.  She obviously holds some disdain for her husband because she mentions that while he gossips or sits at home, she is the one out working to provide for the family. Otherwise, she is quite objective about the people for whom she does laundry.  She observes that there are "stains" that will not come out, metaphorically referring to mistakes that people make that cannot be undone, but she does not seem to judge anybody (other than her husband).

Mrs. Kessler does possess some self-importance.  She mentions that

"the laundress [she], Life, knows all about it" (17),

suggesting that because she has had access to everyone's secrets over the years, she is omniscient when it comes to Life's complexities. She also attends every funeral in Spoon River which certainly shows that she is a curious person, but again, it also demonstrates her objectivity at not choosing some funerals to attend over others. Her observation at the poem's end that all dead faces look "washed and ironed" closes out her extended comparison of humans and laundry and advances her objective view that all humans end up the same way.

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