In the time period when freeman wrote "Louisa"m the radio play, marriage was considered a priviledged path to respectability, security and self-worth. Why?freeman wrote about spinsterhood?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mary E. Wilkins Freeman's works date back to the 1870's, where women were still in the process of acquiring social individuality. Her stories often take place in the rural part of New England and they all touch on how women are bound by society to become wives as their main source of social acceptance and respectability. It is just the way things were at that time, and very few women then would have questioned the Status Quo. After all, with the Civil War still quite vivid in the memories of the people, we can see in that period's literature a specific profile for women: The elder widows, the spinster, and the nurturing mother. All of these roles depict women in one way or another connected with the institution of marriage.

Similar contemporaries of Freeman also show these types of female characters, which leads us to conclude that, undoubtedly, these were the roles women were meant to follow. An example of these characters in other literature would be the female characters that we find in Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn  as well as in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Both of these classics were published at the same time as Freeman's work and they all serve, together, as clear stamps of what society was like back then.

Nevertheless Freeman takes a detour and explores the path towards spinsterhood. In Louisa we will not see the expected ending of a happy couple getting married and living "happily ever after". In turn, we find that the main character of Louisa is a woman who is aware of how she sees her role in society quite differently from other females. In a very similar fashion to Jane Austen's character of Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice , we witness Louisa voicing extremely similar opinions: She will not marry, even if it means the end of her family's financial struggles, until she finds the man that she loves.

Louisa is, in fact, very different. She already tries society by being a teacher who excels at what she does, without thinking of leaving everything behind to follow a husband. The only reason why she actually stops working is not to become a wife, but because she was replaced by the daughter of the headmaster. However, she still stubbornly refuses farmer Nye's proposal because he is not what she envisions her prince charming and she would tell it like it is: She much rather have the "ties that bind" rather than engage in a "marital contract".

Therefore, Freeman does consider the benefits of spinsterhood not only in Louisa but also in A Nun's Tale  where another Louisa also contemplates the joy of complete freedom with the possibility of romance. It is what makes Freeman's works distinct in style and content.

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