With the title, Mary Wilkins Freeman suggests the paradox at the heart of the story: Louisa Ellis, who lives in a New England town, is not a nun but lives in a similar way. However, Louisa is motivated not by faith and devotion but by selfishness. Even her final decision, to release Joe from their engagement, is selfish. Although she tries to rationalize that she makes the decision for the sake of Joe’s and Lily’s happiness, that is not true; rather, she did not want to change her rigid ways and adjust to life in a different house.
Louisa cannot tolerate things being out of place, disturbed, or soiled. Although she is free to engage with society, speak with others, and even travel, she rarely does so; she does not live in a cloister but behaves much as if she does. The calmness of her undisturbed existence is what matters most to her, and she is intent on allowing that to continue. The narrator states:
Serenity and placid narrowness had become to her as the...
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