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...

(The entire section is 510 words.)

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 people live ordinary, simple lives. The men and young couples have left the community, and those who stayed behind reminisce about the past, when the shipping industry was flourishing. The sketches reveal the personal stories of the inhabitants left behind. As Mrs. Almira Todd guides the boarder through the village, the reader meets these villagers and hears their stories.

One day when the boarder is working on her book, Captain Littlepage stops to visit with her. He talks to her about his love of books and his experiences as a sea captain. He then relates a strange tale told to him by a sailor who had been at the North Pole and seen “human-shaped creatures of fog and cobweb.” Littlepage believes that these shadowy creatures were waiting for their passage from this world to the next.

When Mrs. Fosdick pays a visit to Mrs. Todd, the two women...

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(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Jewett’s greatest contribution of American literature is her portrayal of a way of life in New England coastal villages that has since disappeared. In the preface to The Best Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett (1925), Willa Cather makes this claim: “If I were asked to name three American books which have the possibility of a long, long, life, I would say at once, The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn, and The Country of the Pointed Firs. I can think of no others that confront time and change so serenely.” Though others may argue with Cather’s choices, Jewett was in the forefront of local color writers of the nineteenth century, and The Country of the Pointed Firs is widely accepted as her masterpiece.

Jewett is often categorized as a local color writer known for her realistic portrayal of a particular region. Women dominate the local color school of American literature. Such writers as Mary Wilkins Freeman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Rose Terry Cooke were contemporaries of Jewett, who was especially influenced by Stowe’s Pearl of Orr’s Island (1862), a pioneering work of the local color school. According to Josephine Donovan, “The New England women created a counter world of their own, a rural realm that existed on the margins of patriarchal society, a world that nourished strong, free women.” As a local color writer, Jewett provides a clear picture of a New England coastal town during the...

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Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

Decline of the Shipping Industry
The Country of the Pointed Firs takes place some time in the last quarter of the nineteenth...

(The entire section is 870 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Narrative Voice
The Country of the Pointed Firs is narrated in the first-person, meaning that the narrator is a character in...

(The entire section is 735 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1890s: In the women’s suffrage movement, American women struggle to obtain the right to vote in local, state, and national...

(The entire section is 252 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Jewett is considered one of the best American regional writers of the nineteenth century. Other important American regional, or local color,...

(The entire section is 352 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

The Country of the Pointed Firs was recorded on audiotape in 1982 by Jimcin Recordings, read by Cindy Hardin, and distributed by Books...

(The entire section is 24 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

A Country Doctor (1884) is Jewett’s novel based on her father’s experiences as a doctor serving inhabitants of rural Maine.


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Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

“Biographical Note: Sarah Orne Jewett,” in The Country of the Pointed Firs” and Other Stories by Sarah...

(The entire section is 278 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Blanchard, Paula. Sarah Orne Jewett: Her World and Her Work. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1994. In this literary biography, Blanchard devotes one chapter to discussing the novella in the context of Jewett’s life and other works. Also provides photographs, relevant background and biographical information, and a bibliography.

Cary, Richard, ed. Appreciation of Sarah Orne Jewett: Twenty-nine Essays. Waterville, Maine: Colby College Press, 1973. Six of the twenty-nine essays included in this collection deal specifically with The Country of the Pointed Firs. Looking at the novel from a historical and sociological...

(The entire section is 514 words.)