Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 701
Maria Chapdelaine by Louis Hemon is about a young woman who has to choose between two suitors—and two ways of life—after the young man she loves dies in the harsh wilderness.
Maria and her family live out in the French-Canadian wilderness. The villagers have a positive impression of her. They discuss the difficulties for a young girl living in the wilderness, saying,
"Right you are! A fine hearty girl, and one with plenty of spirit too. A pity that she lives so far off in the woods. How are the young fellows of the village to manage an evening at their place, on the other side of the river and above the falls, more than a dozen miles away and the last of them with next to no road?"
This doesn't keep men from falling for her, though. In the novel, a fur trapper, a factory worker, and a farmer fall in love with her. They're willing to go see her even in harsh conditions. Francois dies trying to visit her; Eutrope is willing to walk dozens of miles to find a doctor for her mother.
Maria falls in love with Francois. When they have a moment alone during the summer, they have an exchange that means they're basically engaged. Even though they don't tell others, there's an understanding between them. Hemon writes:
Again he hesitated, and the question he was about to put took another form upon his lips. "You will be here still . . . next spring?"
And after the simple question and simpler answer they fell silent and so long remained, wordless and grave, for they had exchanged their vows.
This is why Maria is so devastated when he dies. Since they didn't tell others about their arrangement, her parents and priest don't understand the depth of her grief over his death. They try to convince her to move on, and she listens to their pleas. They say that her job is to marry someone and build a life—then take care of her parents.
Life in the wilderness is hard and doesn't give people time to mourn excessively. Hemon writes,
Country folk do not die for love, nor spend the rest of their days nursing a wound. They are too near to nature, and know too well the stern laws that rule their lives. Thus it is perhaps, that they are sparing of high-sounding words; choosing to say "liking" rather than "loving" . . . "ennui" rather than "grief," that so the joys and sorrows of the heart may bear a fit proportion to those more anxious concerns of life which have to do with their daily toil, the yield of their lands, provision for the future.
It takes everything that a person has to carve out a life on a farmstead there. That's one reason why her parents are so insistent that Maria move on from Francois's death. It's also one of the reasons why she decides to marry Lorenzo, at first. Marrying him means living a different kind of life, in the city. It would put her far away from the difficult conditions of the North.
She's tempted by the life of the city. As Lorenzo says,
"I hear them all say that . . . one is free, his own master. And you seem to pity those who work in factories because they have a boss, and must do as they are told. Free—on the land—come now!"
He shows her a different view than her parents, Francois, or Eutrope. She does decide to marry him—but doesn't ultimately go through with it.
Maria changes her mind after her father tells her the story of her mother's courage and life as his wife. He expresses his admiration for her strength and work ethic. Maria is moved by this. Hemon writes, "What she heard had moved her profoundly, and she felt in a dim and troubled way that this story of a hard life so bravely lived had for her a deep and timely significance and held some lesson if only she might understand it." This is what ultimately leads her to marry Eutrope. He offers her the opportunity to live the same kind of life as her parents.