What is the significance of the ending scene of Jennifer Donnelly's A Northern Light?

1 Answer | Add Yours

booboosmoosh's profile pic

booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

As the first chapter of Jennifer Donnelly's A Northern Light sets the mood by introducing a mysterious death and the foreshadowing of change, the last chapter brings about closure. It lets the reader know of Mattie's choices, both with regard to Grace Brown's death (saving her letters), and leaving town to travel to New York. It is a time of leave-taking. Mattie leaves letters and/or money for several people, including her father, Royal and Weaver's mother (with money for Emmie's taxes). Mattie sees Weaver and gives him money to go to New York. He resists, but she insists. Weaver, Mattie's best friend, is...

...[t]he first freeborn child in a family of former slaves.

He will be able to go to Columbia Law School on a scholarship. Both have dreams that will take them away from Moose Lake in the Adirondacks.

It is clear that Mattie is torn with her decision to go: to leave what she knows for that which is uncertain. With little money in her pocket, she makes her way stealthily out of town so she doesn't have to make explanations to anyone. Her dream is straight ahead, but her heart—in many ways—is anchored to this place. One passage personifies a coat rack as a creature set upon detaining her:

I pass the coat tree...the one made of twisted branches and deer hooves. In the gloom of the foyer, it looks like a dark, malevolent fairytale tree and for a few seconds I feel that it wants to catch me in its gnarled limbs and hold me fast.

This passage illustrates Mattie's internal struggle. Another thing that motivates her is Grace Brown's death; regarding the victimized woman from the story's beginning, Mattie tells Weaver that she has to go now...

Because Grace Brown can't...

The feeling of change Mattie mentions at the start has itself been altered. Mattie is "frightened but resolved." Now she is...

Feeling scared of what's to come but eager for it, too...

Where she was once worried about what was ahead of her, now she also anticipates it. As much as Mattie suffers in the leaving of home, she realizes (we can infer) that she has changed. Her experiences have altered how she sees herself and her life, and she realizes that she really can't stay longer:

There's no going back once you're already gone.

As Grace had done before her, now Mattie is also leaving the familiar—saying goodbye to people and places that are very "dear" to her. There is finality in the echo of Grace's words, from one of her letters...

I know I shall never see any of them again...

Grace is also closing the chapter on her relationship with Grace and her knowledge of Chester Gillette, believing no one will ever know the truth of Grace, and expecting that Gillette is somewhere enjoying his life. This is the end for Mattie of the mystery that was born the day they returned Grace's body to the hotel. As Grace before her, Mattie stands at the train station thinking of her family and those in the town. Momentarily frozen to the spot, the train makes preparation to leave and Mattie suddenly springs toward the moving car, while the conductor grabs her hand and pulls her aboard. The last step is taken. She is heading for her new life, excited and scared, but takes with her...

...this place and its stories...wherever [she goes.]

As the first scene or chapter introduced Mattie, Grace and the theme of change, this final chapter puts to rest the concerns at Moose Lake and opens the door of Mattie's future.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,967 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question