The Country of the Pointed Firs Analysis
by Sarah Orne Jewett

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Dunnet Landing

Dunnet Landing. Fictional Maine fishing village where the narrator boards with Mrs. Almira Todd and around which his story revolves. The tenacity of the coastline’s tall pines, spruces, and firs, often rooted in rocks, and the always-changing sea, providing bounty one day and tragedy the next, reflect the strength, integrity, and patience of Maine’s people, who make their homes on the rugged yet strikingly beautiful coastland. The sound of the sea is ever present throughout the narration. Visitors, including the narrator, are hospitably received and become privy to the islanders’ family histories, idiosyncrasies, joys, and sorrows. The fishermen from this village are strong, weather-beaten, for the most part silent on shore. Taciturn sea captains are often surprisingly well read. In wooden boats, these men have traveled around the Cape of Good Hope and battled the ferocious seas of Cape Horn. Their women are sociable, creative, and compassionate. They appreciate the wild roses and make use of the berries and herbs covering the mid-summer hillsides. Mrs. Todd, who includes her visitor in her summer activities, is a wonderful teller of tales, both real and embellished. Many of the wives living in small weather-beaten houses have traveled to distant ports with their seagoing husbands, bringing back exotic small souvenirs.

Green Island

Green Island. Outer Maine island accessible only by boat and the birthplace of Mrs. Todd and home of her mother, Mrs. Blackett. Mrs. Blackett lives in a house on the only level area of a large sloping green field, a steep climb from the sea where Mrs. Todd and her visitor land their dory. The small farm sits below dark spruce woods. The tops of these conifers are sharply outlined against a deep blue sky. Eastward, toward the ocean, a flock of gray sheep grazes among the sparse pasturage among the large gray rocks. The island is described as a “complete and tiny continent.” From the top, where the air is fresh with the fragrance of sea and scattered bayberry bushes, one can see the ocean surrounding the island. In the distance hundreds of other small islands and the far mainland appear. This island, in its silence and loneliness, contrasts with Dunnet Landing, the busy, noisy fishing village.

Shell-heap Island

Shell-heap Island. Small and lonely island, three miles from Green Island and eight miles from the mainland, that is difficult to visit because of strong winds and tricky tides. Even when the conditions are favorable, the island is a difficult place on which to land. Self-exiled Joanna Todd lives on this island, which takes its name from piles of shells left by earlier Indian residents. Other evidences of past Indian occupation include stone tools they have left behind.

Black Island

Black Island. Island closest to Shell-heap Island. Its residents often spy on the movements of Joanna Todd with a spyglass.


Fessendon. Town inland and a full day’s sail from Green Island. To reach Fessendon from Green Island, one has to go down the coast to Cold Spring Light and around a long point of land.

Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In The Country of the Pointed Firs, Sarah Orne Jewett weaves together several sketches and tales that show the New England character. Taken together, the stories form a portrait of New England life in the late nineteenth century. Individually, each chapter can stand alone as a character sketch or short story.

The novel opens with the arrival of the boarder, a woman writer, in June and closes in the fall, when she leaves Dunnet Landing. The rustic locale is described in the realistic detail of the local color school of American literature. For example, Jewett’s descriptions of scenes are sprinkled with names of flowers, such as portulaca, pennyroyal, elecampane, lobelia, and tansy.

The life of Dunnet Landing stands in contrast to the life of the outside world. This Maine coastal village is populated with older characters—unmarried women, widows, farmers, and former sea captains. These...

(The entire section is 4,427 words.)