Provide some symbols found in "A New England Nun" by Mary Wilkins Freeman.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“A New England Nun” by Mary Wilkins Freeman creates a woman, who resists the domination of men. Raised in a strict Puritan home, Freeman uses her code of behavior for her character who exhibits godly virtues as honesty and respect for elders. This story employs a third person limited omniscient narrator to follow an important part of Louisa Ellis’s, the protagonist, in her struggle for freedom. Everything is seen through the eyes of Louisa.


Louisa waited for Joe Dagget, her fiancé, to return after searching for his fortune. He has come home to marry her.  However, their relationship is strained because Louisa lacks the emotional clarity to allow Joe into her cloistered life. When Joe went off for just a short time, it turned into fourteen long years. Louisa volunteered to live in her solitary home, but only doing what she liked most. She dedicated herself to the order of her home, and the routine that she followed every day.  

Their relationship has waned, and the lack of love allows Joe to find someone else that shows an interest in him.  Coincidentally, Louisa overhears a conversation between Lily Dyer and Joe.  Apparently, they have a brief tryst and now Joe’s feelings are conflicted.  However, he is honorable and will still marry Louisa.  The next day in a show of honor Louisa frees Joe.  She will remain in her world of solitude. 


(1)   Symbolically the story abounds with images that add to the depth of the story.  Space operates almost as a character. The reader sees  the connection between Louisa and her home.  The order and cleanliness of the house reveals Louisa's selective personality.  The theme of isolation comes from the house where Louisa lives. 

Louisa had throbs of genuine triumphant at the sight of wmdow-panes which she had polished until the shone like jewels.

(2)   ­But there is another space where the action takes place: the singular road that leads to her home.  It is in the “outside world” where Louisa realises that her life is not there, rather she belongs in the solitude and harmony of her home.

(3)   The yellow canary symbolizes the intrusion that Joe makes in Louisa’s life.  When Joe comes into the room, the canary becomes excited and flaps her wings.  The bird’s wild fluttering reflects Louisa’s frustration and anxiety over the marriage.  This connection between Louisa, Joe, and the bird becomes blatantly apparent when Joe leaves and the birds no longers moves excitedly. 

(4)   In juxtaposition to Louisa’s home is the hut of the old dog Caesar, who lives his lonely life in the back yard.  Because of an incident as a puppy and biting a man,  he has been sentenced to life at the end of a two feet chain. Just as Louisa waited all these years  in her solitary house, so has Caesar placidly lying in his dog house doing nothing day after day.

The title of the story “A New England Nun” reflects the sheltered  life that Louisa has led.  Her life has the day to day--

“long reach future days strung together like pearls in a rosary, everyone like the others”.

The connection between the figure of Louisa and the dog prayerfully numbering her day portrays not the  uncloistered nun.

After the separation from Joe, Louisa has mixed feelings. But as she stands in her perfect house with her things that she loves, she feels the relief and sweetness of freedom.