Discussion Topic

An analysis of Jerry's character and the narrator's evolving perceptions of him in "A Mother in Mannville."

Summary:

Jerry's character in "A Mother in Mannville" is depicted as honest, hardworking, and emotionally resilient. Initially, the narrator perceives him as a reliable and capable boy. However, as the story progresses, the narrator's perception evolves to reveal deeper layers of Jerry's character, including his longing for familial connections and his capacity for emotional depth, which profoundly impacts the narrator's understanding of him.

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How do the narrator's first impressions of Jerry's ability change in "A Mother in Mannville"?

The narrator's first impressions of Jerry are none too encouraging. He comes across as such a slight, scrawny creature—certainly not someone you'd think would be any good at chopping wood. Yet when Jerry gets that ax in his hand, the narrator changes her tune completely. She's greatly impressed by the young orphan's hard-working, positive attitude. What's more, she's pleasantly surprised to find that such a small boy is capable of chopping wood, something she never thought possible in one so young and so little.

In due course, the narrator will continue to be impressed, not just by Jerry's work ethic, but also his politeness and punctuality. The narrator also feels that she can trust him, so much so that she gives him the responsibility of looking after her cabin and her dog.

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How do the narrator's first impressions of Jerry's ability change in "A Mother in Mannville"?

In "A Mother in Mannville," by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, the narrator is a writer who is staying in a cabin that belongs to a nearby orphanage. She asks for a boy to do some work for her while she is there--someone to chop wood for the fire especially. When the boy, Jerry, shows up, she is not impressed. He is small in stature, and the narrator does not think he will be strong enough to chop wood. She expects him to do a poor job.

"I visualized mangled and inadequate branches for my fires." (Rawlings 2)

Jerry, though, surprises her. When he finishes up and comes back to the cabin to let her know he has to get back to the orphanage, she finds a large stack of wood, which she realizes is an amount that a man might have done. Jerry has chosen the wood carefully, and his work is excellent. The narrator definitely underestimated Jerry and is now very pleased with him.

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What are Jerry's character traits in "A Mother in Mannville?"

In Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's short story, "A Mother in Mannville," Jerry is hardworking, trustworthy, and imaginative. 

Jerry is an orphan who lives at the orphanage where the narrator rents a cabin. He meets the narrator when she puts in a request to have someone come to chop wood for her. Right away, the narrator is impressed with Jerry's work ethic. She didn't think he'd be able to do the job because of his size. In response to the work Jerry did that first day, the narrator says: 

"We went together back of the cabin. An astonishing amount of solid wood had been cut. There were cherry logs and heavy roots of rhododendron, and blocks from the waste pine and oak left from the building of the cabin. 'But you've done as much as a man,' I said, 'This is a splendid pile.'"

Jerry is also trustworthy. This can be seen in his relationship with the narrator's pointer dog, Pat. Jerry plays with Pat, rests with him, and takes care of him when the narrator is gone. The narrator says: 

"He became intimate, of course, with my pointer, Pat. There is a strange communion between a boy and a dog. Perhaps they possess the same singleness of spirit, the same kind of wisdom. It is difficult to explain, but it exists. When I went across the state for a weekend, I left the dog in Jerry's charge. I gave him the dog whistle and the key to the cabin, and left sufficient food."

Along with Jerry's dependability in showing up every day, this quote shows his trustworthiness. The narrator trusts him with the cabin and her dog. The narrator is delayed in her return, and Jerry continues to care for him, and indicates upon her return he would've done so indefinitely if needed, saying "I wouldn't have let anything happen to him." 

Jerry is imaginative because he concocts the story of his mother still being involved in his life. He tells the narrator that his mother lives in Mannville, and comes to visit often. She buys him things, like skates. He says she wanted to buy him a puppy, but it would have been a problem if he had a puppy and the other boys didn't. 

In light of his other qualities, it would be going too far to say Jerry is dishonest, which is incongruent with his character. Imaginative fits him better, as he has created a fantasy parent, as orphans commonly do. 

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What aspect of Jerry impresses the narrator most in "A Mother in Mannville"?

In Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings short story "A Mother in Mannville," what impresses the narrator the most about Jerry is his integrity. This is stated in the following quote:

"His name was Jerry; he was twelve years old, and he had been at the orphanage since he was four. I could picture him at four, with the same grave gray-blue eyes and the same--independence? No, the word that comes to me is "integrity." The word means something very special to me, and the quality for which I use it is a rare one.  My father had it--there is another of whom I am almost sure--but almost no man of my acquaintance possesses it with the clarity, the purity, the simplicity of a mountain stream. But the boy Jerry had it." 

The narrator notices his work ethic, his honesty when trying to make retribution for the ax handle breaking, and his dependability. Because of these qualities, she trusts him with her dog when she has to leave for a few days. It is ironic, then, when the narrator finds out that he has told a big and rather an elaborate lie in pretending that he had a mother in Mannville. A mother he says visits him every summer and buys him gifts. The story ends with this revelation, so the reader is left to infer what the narrator's reaction might be to her shattered image of Jerry. 

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What does Jerry's behavior reveal about his character in "A Mother in Mannville"?

In Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' short story "A Mother in Mannville," readers learn a great deal about Jerry from his actions or the way he behaves.

1. He is hardworking. There is evidence for this in the text in the following quote: 

We went together back of the cabin. An astonishing amount of solid wood had been cut. There were cherry logs and heavy roots of rhododendron, and blocks from the waste pine and oak left from the building of the cabin. 'But you've done as much as a man,' I said. 'This is a splendid pile.'

He chops wood for an hour and a half that first day, which is all the time he has, as he has to get back for supper. He exceeds the narrator's expectations with his excellent work. He faithfully comes again until he has chopped enough wood for kindling, medium wood, and backlogs.  

2. He is compassionate. There is evidence of this in the text in two places. First, in the quote below: 

And he did for me the unnecessary thing, the gracious thing, that we find done only by the great of heart. Things no training can teach, for they are done on the instant, with no predicated experience. He found a cubbyhole beside the fireplace that I had not noticed. There, of his own accord, he put kindling and "medium" wood, so that I might always have dry fire material ready in case of sudden wet weather.

This was an act of compassion, as Jerry thought about and fulfilled the needs of another. Jerry's other example of compassion come from his relationship with the narrator's dog, a pointer named Pat. The narrator describes their simple communion with each other and their joy in each other's company. He goes above and beyond what is expected in caring for the dog when the narrator leaves the state for a weekend, caring for the dog as though he was his own. He treats the dog with compassion. 

3. He has a moral compass. 

There is evidence for this fact in several areas in the text. One example is when he offers to pay for the ax handle that broke, claiming responsibility for it. He says he brought the ax handle down carelessly. He is willing to accept the consequences of that action.

Another example is when he tells the narrator that he might have told a story, or lie, because he told the people at the orphanage that the narrator wanted to see him after her trip out of state. He also follows the rules, leaving when he is supposed to for supper, and being responsible for finishing his work on time.

4. He is lonely. The textual evidence that Jerry is lonely is found in his desire to continue to see the narrator and her dog after the initial work of chopping wood is complete. It is also found in the lie that he told about his mother living in Mannville. Miss Clark reveals at the story's end that Jerry doesn't have a mother who visits him. This lie shows that he is lonely for a family, and uses his imagination to invent what he doesn't have.

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