Style and Technique
Jewett highlights the conflict between old and new by contrasting her two main characters, Laneway and Abby. The senator has left the old town for the young West because he has wanted the external things that the world offers: glory, fame, wealth. He has achieved these, but he has had to pay the price of their acquisition, the loss of simplicity and compassion. He no longer can get “a good, hearty, old-fashioned supper” whenever he wants, and he has neglected Abby when he might easily have helped her. As she shows him her small library, “His heart smote him for not being thoughtful; he knew well enough that the overflow of his own library would have been delightful to this self-denying, eager-minded soul.”
Abby, though, has always remembered her first love. She not only saves the few letters he has sent but also uses some of the little money she has to buy a campaign biography of her old friend. Even though “the household stores were waning low,” she fixes a feast for her guest. Nor is he an exception; she has always sought “to help and to serve everybody who came in her way.” Though she has not prospered as Laneway has, he recognizes that she has held onto the spiritual values that are “the very best of life.”
Hence, at the end of the story, Abby does not join her fellow citizens of Winby at the train station as they publicly celebrate their famous native son. Laneway is pleased with the adulation he receives, and Abby is happy that he has gotten what he wants. However, she believes that she “had the best part of anybody.” Treasuring the homey and the simple, she prefers her private evening to any public recognition. For one night Abby has resurrected the innocent New England boy who has been buried inside the Kansota millionaire and has delighted in his company; Abby prefers the simple youth to the famous man.
She realizes, too, that her quiet life has been richer than Laneway’s. Though Laneway and Abby have both lost their spouses, they do not rekindle their old romance because they have become too different. Abby has clung to the past, preserving even the faded flowers, and Laneway has chosen the new world. In opting for tradition, she has chosen “the best part.”