Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The twofold purpose of Sarah Orne Jewett’s best stories, of which “The Courting of Sister Wisby” is one, is to depict in graphic, ironic, frequently humorous detail the harsh but usually spine-and soul-strengthening conditions that challenged late nineteenth century New Englanders, particularly those living in rural, coastal Maine, and to reveal the endurance, and ultimate dominance, of often mistreated women in old New England’s cramping physical and social environment.

The relationship of the narrator and Mrs. Goodsoe is thematically significant. The younger woman begins by saying she felt tempted to go for a stroll into the pasture. Enticed to venture farther, into higher land, she is drawn by “an invisible messenger” to a spot where she encounters Mrs. Goodsoe, who immediately says that all morning she has been thinking “these twenty times” of the younger woman. The two are attuned in an extrasensory way. Mrs. Goodsoe explains that she doubtless inherited her mother’s Scotch-Irish family’s “second sight” and ability to foretell events. However, even while lecturing the narrator on herbs with the indulgence of an expert to a neophyte, she is modest enough to praise her own mother’s superior herbal lore, much of which, she sadly adds, died with her.

The narrator combines courtesy, deference, and determination; she prompts Mrs. Goodsoe not to stray by seemingly extraneous chatter from what becomes the main topic,...

(The entire section is 498 words.)