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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 697


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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.

When Nan’s grandmother dies, Nan moves to Dr. Leslie’s house in the village, which is much like Jewett’s home in its central location, spaciousness, and somewhat exotic furnishings, such as a medical library. The village offers the adolescent Nan new resources for growth, while not depriving her completely of her free, rural life. Nan’s adventuresome habits are curtailed in the more watchful village, but Oldfields also brings her into daily contact with liberal mentors. Dr. Leslie teaches her to study patients’ whole selves in deciding upon treatments. Mrs. Graham teaches adult manners and proper feminine taste, preparing her to interact well even with people opposed to her vocational choice. Thus she becomes ready to embark upon medical studies.

As in other works, Jewett here implies that knowing both rural and urban life is important to becoming a whole person. This was her own experience growing up in a rural village, roaming the countryside, learning self-reliance and social skills, and becoming a professional writer who divided her year between South Berwick and Boston, Massachusetts.


Dunport. Fictional New England town, probably modeled on Portsmouth, New Hampshire, at the mouth of the Piscataqua River. Dunport is an Atlantic commercial port—with law firms, shipbuilding, and other businesses—and with a substantial number of leisure-class women. One of these is Anna Prince, Nan’s aunt.

Much larger than Oldfields, Dunport has an active social life but lacks a city’s resources for entertainment and education. Again, the river is a key location—possibly the same river that flows through rural Oldfields. Here the local youth entertain themselves with rowing parties and picnics. On the river, Nan becomes acquainted with a suitor and receives his proposal. In the harbor for repair, two ships with entangled rigging become an extended metaphor of unfortunate marriages.

Nan visits Dunport, partly out of gratitude for her aunt’s financial support, to end the feud that began when her...

(The entire section contains 891 words.)

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