A New England Nun Topics for Further Study
by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

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Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Mary Wilkins Freeman is known for her accurate portrayals of rural New England life during the late nineteenth century. Research urban life during the same time period (roughly 1880 to 1900) and compare the two. You may wish to read a few of her other short stories from her collections A Humble Romance and Other Stories and A New England Nun and Other Stories in order to get a more complete picture of rural life.

Most historians consider the major forces that shaped the nineteenth century in America to have been the Civil War and Reconstruction, urbanization and industrialization, European immigration, and the expansion westward, including the building of the intercontinental railroad and the gold rushes of 1849 through 1899. Pick one of these factors and research its impact on American life. Can you find evidence of this impact reflected in "A New England Nun'' or other stories by Mary Wilkins Freeman? Are we still feeling the impact of this factor today?

Mary Wilkins Freeman claimed that one of the things she was interested in exploring in her short stories was the legacy of Puritanism in New England. Do some research on Puritanism, perhaps on the impact of the Great Awakening, the Puritan revival that swept New England in 1740-42. You may read one or two Puritan sermons, such as the famous Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, by Jonathan Edwards. What traces of Puritanism can you find in "A New England Nun,’’ other stories by Mary Wilkins Freeman, or works by other New England writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne or Emily Dickinson? If you are familiar with New England culture today, what traces of Puritanism still remain?

Since the 1970s, feminist historians have been interested in Mary Wilkins Freeman's short stories for their portrayal of women's lives in rural post-Civil War New England. Do some research to find out what kind of lives women led in New England and in other parts of the United States, such as the South and the West, in the latter part of the nineteenth century. What kinds of attitudes about women prevailed? What regional differences do you find? What differences between urban life and rural? How much have women's lives or attitudes about women changed