In "A New England Nun" what are the symbols and how do they communicate the story's overall theme?
A number of symbols in the story relate to the overall theme, which is the choice Louisa must make between married life, and the celibate, "cloistered" life to which she has become accustomed. The canary in its cage mirrors Louisa in her confined but safe existence, bordered by a "hedge of lace", and the distress the canary shows when Joe Dagget comes around reflects Louisa's own uneasiness at the thought of marrying him. Cesar, the chained dog, is symbolic of Louisa's passions, which, albeit "mild", were once awakened enough to allow her to fall in love with Joe and promise to marry him. Since he has been gone, Louisa has kept her desires, like the dog, securely tethered, but she knows that once she marries Joe she will not be able to stop him from letting both loose. The lush, "luxuriant" growth of the late summer harvest through which Joe and Lily walk represent the freedom and abandon, as well as the potential fertility, of their union as a couple, in contrast to the neat, fettered order of Louisa's own cherished and private garden. Near the end of the story, Louisa sits among the wild growth and looks up at the moon. In Roman mythology, Diana, the goddess of the moon, is chaste, as will Louisa be in choosing to remain in her single, solitary life.