Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 534
While not one of Jewett’s best-known stories, “A Native of Winby” is typical of her better work. Jewett carefully presents four scenes of return, showing different kinds of welcome received by Senator Joseph K. Laneway when, after about fifty years, he visits Winby, the New England town where he was born and where he lived for thirteen years before his family went west. Laneway has been an enormously successful businessman, a Civil War general, and a leading United States senator from an influential western state. He is at first surprised and a little pleased to find that no one recognizes him in Winby. His anonymity allows him to make three quiet pilgrimages before the public can lionize him.
First he visits the country school he attended as a child. The story opens from the point of view of the young teacher, Marilla Hender, struggling to get her students to work on a warm May afternoon and inspiring them with reminders of their distinguished schoolmate, Senator Laneway. She and the students do not recognize him in the elderly visitor who asks to observe them for awhile. After he has enjoyed evoking his childhood memories, he identifies himself and gives them a short speech admonishing them to be brave and good.
As he walks on his second pilgrimage, he reflects that the first was not entirely satisfactory, even though it had its moments—noticing that his speech really inspired a few students and seeing the amusing caricature of himself in one student’s arithmetic book. He walks to his old home, which he is disappointed to find in ruin. A remnant of the rose bush his mother missed in the West evokes memories that make him linger at the spot, but finally he is humbled and made aware of his mortality and his comparative unimportance in the great scheme of things.
Disappointed and depressed, he is forced at the end of the day to seek shelter at the home of his closest school friend, Marilla’s grandmother, Abby, where he finds what he has been looking for. She knows him at first sight, seeing through all he has done and become to the boy he was when she knew him last and that he still is in his deepest self. As they talk through the evening, Jewett shows how each of the friends has been of at least equal value to the world. Each has shown courage and strength, has striven for the good and kept faith with their youthful hopes, and has lived a satisfying and productive life despite hardship, loss, and pain.
Joe and Abby’s visit becomes a communion of the sort that Jewett consistently presents as the ideal in human relationships. As a result, when Marilla, excited by the public welcome Joe receives on his departure, returns from accompanying him to the Winby train station, the reader sees as clearly as Abby does that this acclaim, while deserved, is not really what Joe wanted in Winby. What he wanted was to go with Abby down to the cellar to draw some of her cider that tastes like the month of October and to share it, their memories, and a cheerful laugh.