Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 689
Sarah Penn feels compelled to challenge the status quo and assert her own moral imperatives against the more prosaic desires of her husband, Adoniram. Sarah is not by nature a hellion or a woman intent on challenging male dominion; she is a long-suffering wife who has waited forty years for her husband to honor his promise to build a new house to accommodate their domestic needs. Through all these years, she has been the consummate helpmate who devotes the bulk of her energies to ensuring that none of her husband’s wants go unmet.
As the story opens, it is early spring and the land is full of new growth and unseen blossoms. Sarah and Adoniram are engaged in a dialogue that is both sparse and familiar. The conversation, sparked by Sarah’s inquiry regarding the digging going on in the adjacent field, ends when Adoniram refuses to discuss his decision to build yet another new barn in the exact location where he had once promised to build a new home to replace the old homestead.
Despite her obvious displeasure, Sarah returns to her household chores. She even defends her husband’s actions when their daughter, Nanny, complains that his decision to build a new barn disregards their need for a better house. In Sarah’s view, Adoniram has been a good provider and has always attended to their needs without delay. They have, in her estimation, a house that is commodious despite its physical limitations. She trusts in her husband’s judgment, much as she might in the forces of Providence, and remains convinced that there is a master plan.
Sarah’s resignation to her husband’s will is part of a persona she has crafted over the years. Just as she has grown used to his taciturn nature, she also has come to anticipate his obstinacy. Confronted with her daughter’s distress, however, she tries once again to impress on him the need for a new house to replace the one that is “scarcely as commodious for people as the little boxes under the barn eaves were for the doves.” When her masterful appeals fall on deaf ears and Adoniram refuses to change his plans, she resumes her customary duties without a word of complaint.
Shortly thereafter, Nanny mentions holding her wedding in the new barn, and Sarah experiences something of an epiphany. Her response suggests that she has just detected the higher purpose implicit in Adoniram’s actions. Although she says nothing to Nanny, when her husband returns a short time later, she greets him at the door and then lingers, as if trying to flesh out a vision.
As the barn nears completion and Adoniram prepares to move in his stock, a letter from Sarah’s brother fortuitously arrives, inviting Adoniram to come to Vermont to buy the kind of horse he has been wanting. Just what part Sarah has played in this invitation is not clear, but her reaction suggests that she has done something and hopes that her husband will accept, thereby giving her the time she needs to take advantage of his providential absence.
The hours following his departure are active hours, filled with the previously “unseen blossoms” mentioned earlier. After she instructs the delivery boy to place the new hay in the old barn, Sarah begins packing. Within hours, she has moved all of their worldly possessions into the barn. When the new cows arrive, she places one of them in the old homestead so that when her husband returns, he will realize how serious she was when she accused him of housing his cattle in better accommodations than those in which he has raised his family.
The town’s reaction to Sarah’s willfulness is predictable. So, too, is Adoniram’s initial shock, and his eventual capitulation to Sarah’s mandate that he complete her dream by adding such finishing touches as doors, windows, and partitions. As Sarah has known all along, Adoniram—unlike the minister who ineffectually attempts to convince her of the error of her ways—has a fundamental respect for Sarah and will do right by her.