What does this quote in Housekeeping mean? Fingerbone was never an impressive town.  It was chastened by an outsized landscape and extravagant weather and chastened again by an awareness that...

What does this quote in Housekeeping mean?

Fingerbone was never an impressive town.  It was chastened by an outsized landscape and extravagant weather and chastened again by an awareness that the whole of human history had occurred elsewhere.

Expert Answers
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To understand this quote, let us take it line by line.

  • “Fingerbone was never an impressive town.” The meaning of this line is rather clear.  Fingerbone is not an important place.  It is a backwater town where we should not expect important things to happen.
  • “It was chastened.”  First, we need to know what “chastened” means.  It means “humbled,” or “subdued.”  If something happens to chasten you, it makes you feel less important.  We are now going to be told what things make Fingerbone feel unimportant and unimpressive.
  • “By an outsized landscape and extravagant weather.”  This means that Fingerbone is a little town in a big landscape.  The part of Idaho where Marilynne Robinson grew up is not the potato-growing area.  Her part of Idaho (Northern Idaho), is full of mountains and forests and lakes.  A town like Fingerbone would seem lost among that “outsized” landscape.  It would also feel unimportant because of the “extravagant” weather.  “Extravagant,” means something like “unrestrained.”  There is a lot of snow in the winter in this part of Idaho and the summers get hot.  The weather is not mild.  Between the landscape and the climate, Fingerbone seems unimportant and small.
  • “And chastened again by an awareness that the whole of human history had occurred elsewhere.”  This means that nothing important ever happened in Fingerbone.  All of the things that have changed human history happened somewhere else.  Impressive towns are towns where things happen.  They are towns where rich and important people live.  These towns matter.  Fingerbone does not because rich and important people do not live there and world-changing events do not happen there.

Thus, this quote is emphasizing how Housekeeping is set in an unimportant, backwater town in the middle of nowhere.  It is a town that is overshadowed by its environment.  It is a town where nothing important ever happens.  This is what the passage that you quote is conveying to us.