Set on the campus of Appleton College, a small, prestigious New England women’s college where scholarship is emphasized, the action of The Small Room takes place in one semester. The primary focus is on the faculty, although necessarily a few students play important roles. The tale is told from the point of view of Lucy Winter, a twenty-seven-year-old woman whose broken engagement to a medical student marks a major turning point in her life. Academically well qualified with a doctorate from Harvard, Lucy, not really committed to teaching, is a new appointee to the faculty. Although in the center of activity on a college campus, Lucy feels lonely from time to time.
In the narrative, Lucy relates some of her classroom experiences. She believes that the relationship between professor and student should develop only around course work; for this reason, she refuses to listen to Pippa Brentwood’s tales of her recently deceased father. Lucy also sits in on a class taught by Harriet Summerson (Hallie) and is impressed by Hallie’s masterful handling of the learning situation. As an educator, Lucy is also a learner.
Lucy is also a learner as she becomes more familiar with Carryl Cope, whose friend Olive Hunt is one of the college trustees. Olive is vehemently opposed to the appointment of a resident psychiatrist to the faculty. Cope, too, appears to be against it, but Lucy suspects that Cope is being influenced by Hunt.
(The entire section is 602 words.)