The Country of the Pointed Firs Themes
by Sarah Orne Jewett

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The Country of the Pointed Firs Themes

(Novels for Students)

Community is one of the central themes of The Country of the Pointed Firs. The entire novel focuses on the narrator’s description of the tiny community of Dunnet Landing. As the central character, Mrs. Todd functions as a touchstone by which the narrator is able to perceive the lines that interconnect the individual members of the community. The narrator meets or hears of many members of the community through Mrs. Todd, and learns of their relationships to one another. Although most of the people she meets—all of them over the age of sixty and either widowed or widowers—seem to lead generally solitary lives, the strong community ties that hold Dunnet Landing together are clearly indicated.

The Bowden family reunion demonstrates most powerfully the strong communal ties among the town’s citizens. The lines between family and community are in fact blurred, as a wide network of people turn out to be related to each other through ties of both blood and marriage. Thus, the Bowden family reunion is more like a town gathering. The narrator also observes that, although the various members of the family and town live on remote farms or islands and may only see each other once a year, the bonds of affection and shared memory maintain a sense of interconnection that transcends geographical distance. Mrs. Blackett, for instance, who lives on a remote island and rarely comes ashore, turns out to be the “queen” of the reunion, sharing strong affections with everyone at the gathering. There is a poignancy to the narrator’s portrayal of this community because it represents a disappearing segment of Maine culture.

The narrative of The Country of the Pointed Firs consists of a series of encounters the narrator has with various town members who proceed to disclose to her long stories of their pasts. It becomes clear that the stories these characters tell are stories they have told many times before to many people. As the narrator returns from her encounters with each of these characters and relates the stories to Mrs. Todd, Mrs. Todd nods knowingly, indicating that she herself has heard all of these stories before. Jewett thus explores the theme of storytelling as it relates to community, friendship, and personal identity. That is, The Country of the Pointed Firs is in part a tale about the role played by storytelling in the lives of individuals, in their relationships to others, and in their sense of community as a group of people who share a common set of stories. Each character appears to define him or herself by the stories that they repeatedly tell to anyone who will listen, and the community of Dunnet Landing is largely defined by the sense of a common history as passed down through storytelling. The story of “poor Joanna,” for example, is told to the narrator by both Mrs. Todd and Mrs. Fosdick, and concerns a woman whose personal...

(The entire section is 750 words.)