Oldfields. Fictional Maine farming community, probably modeled after the environs of Jewett’s birthplace, South Berwick, Maine. Jewett’s father, a physician, often took young Jewett along on patient visits, pointing out for close observation features of the people and landscape. As a child, Nan flourishes on the farm. Local society—with its Puritan heritage—tends to be narrow, formally pious, and conservative. The opening chapters tell several stories of talented people thwarted by the limited life choices available there. Nan, however, is allowed to grow up “naturally”; she rafts on the river, roams the fields day and night, and plays with farm animals. She develops the self-reliance to resist the limits usually imposed on girls. From the local people she picks up the virtues of a work ethic and mutual helpfulness. Nan returns to rural Oldfields to begin medical practice despite opportunities to work and study in major city hospitals and in Europe.
River. Unnamed river that is a key place in rural Oldfields—the Salmon Falls and Piscataqua Rivers join below Jewett’s South Berwick. Nan’s despairing mother nearly drowns herself and the infant Nan near a graveyard along the river. Nan returns to the spot twice: when she decides to become a doctor and again at the end of the novel, when she meditates on the providential guidance she has felt.
The fictional village of Oldfields resembles Jewett’s childhood home. Oldfields differs from Jewett’s South Berwick in the absence of modern manufacturing. The narrator specifies that the village is untouched by the hurry and shoddy building of the industrial revolution....
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