A New England Nun Questions and Answers
by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

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In Mary Wilkins Freeman's story, "A New England Nun," how does the female character triumph? 

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Louisa Ellis waited fifteen years for Joe Dagget to come back to marry her.  While Joe was off making his fortune, Louisa’s mother and brother died.  She has been alone except for her canary and her brother’s dog Caesar.  After all this time, Joe is back, and Louisa is confused by her feelings. 

The story “A New England Nun” by Mary Wilkins Freeman features a protagonist who has built a life based on waiting.  The waiting is now over, and the heroine does not feel the pleasure that she thought that she would. However, she will demonstrate strength of spirit and will triumph over adversity.

Louisa has learned to like her freedom.  She is meticulous in her cleanliness.  The precision with which she goes through her day borders on obsession.  This is her realm that she has made and rules.

Louisa has come to define herself by her independence that she only acquired after having been left behind and alone for so long. As she thought about finally marrying Joe Dagget, Louisa began to fear losing the stable and comfortable life that she had created for herself.

Each evening, Joe comes to visit Louisa.  The cordiality between them does not show any strong love between them. When they have their meetings, both of them make small talk.  Joe’s mother is ill and requires a nurse.  Foreshadowing comes into  play when Louisa inquires about the mother’s nurse:

I suppose that Lily Dyer’s with her now?

Dagget colored: ‘Yes, she’s with her,’ he answered slowly.

Louisa does not notice any odd reaction from Joe.  What she does notice is his moving things around, knocking things off, and bringing in dust on the floor. This does not sound like the makings of true love.  Joe promised Louisa that he would marry her, she has waited for him, and the wedding is to take place in a week.

Louisa had loved Joe for all these years, now that he was back, she was unsure.  He had been her first and only lover. For the last seven years, Louisa has lived in a serene peace. Her day had been planned and orderly.  Joe has disturbed the order of things.  

After Joe leaves for the evening, Louisa goes on a stroll.  There is a full moon.  On her walk, she hears voices.  It is Joe and the nurse Lily.  Louisa listens to their conversation.

Joe and the nurse have had an affair.  Apparently, they both have strong feelings for each other.  Joe will not break his promise to Louisa, so the wedding is still on.

 Louisa is in a daze.  She retreats to her home and begins to think about what she should do.

When Joe comes the next evening, Louisa sets Joe free.  She does not tell him that she knows about Lily. Her excuse is that she had gotten used to living the way that she had.  Joe agrees.

Louisa has shown grace under pressure.  For fifteen years, she waited for this man.  He has wronged her. To her credit, she frees him to find his happiness.  Louisa has elevated herself to true heroism by thinking of others more than her own interests. 

That night, Louisa cries and will not let herself admit why she is crying.  The next day she feels glad that it is over.  She will go on with her life.  She will fill it with things that she enjoys. 

At the end, Louisa is numbering the days as she prays referring to herself as an uncloistered nun.  She has triumphed over adversity, over the loss of the man, and now will live freely as she chooses.


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