What is the significance of the title The New England Nun by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Actually, the title is "A New England Nun," and I have moved the question to the appropriate topic as a result.  This being said, the significance of the title is in the last line:

Louisa sat, prayerfully numbering her days, like an uncloistered nun.

Further, we can learn more about the main character, Louisa Ellis, and why the title refers to her. It is about a woman who lives in New England and lives alone.  Louisa has made a very happy and solitary life for herself as she waits for her beau, Joe Dagget, to return from Australia after fourteen years.  When he finally returns, the two are awkward and no longer in love.  Further, Joe Dagget has fallen in love with Lily Dyer (who is currently taking care of Joe's mother).  Louisa releases Joe from his engagement.  Now Joe is free to be happy and marry Lily. 

Even though religion isn't necessarily prominent in this story, Louisa has many qualities that befit a nun's life.  She lives in self-afflicted isolation.  She is a woman.  She is a virgin.  She prays every day.  Apart from these general truths about Louisa, there are specific things she does as well that resemble a nun's life.  Louisa is absolutely set in her ways after living without Joe for so long.  She is obsessed with cleanliness.  We know this because Louisa gets mad when Joe tracks dirt all over the floor, puts her books away in different places, and clumsily knocks over her knickknacks. 

In conclusion, the irony is that Louisa is not a nun, but she might as well be.  The simile quoted above which is the last line of the story as well as the similarities to Roman Catholic nuns indicated by Louisa's behavior are the best proof.