The Old Nurse's Story Analysis
by Elizabeth Gaskell

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The Old Nurse's Story Analysis

Framed Story Structure

“The Old Nurse’s Story” is a frame story. It begins and ends with the old nurse, Hester, telling the children under her care a story about their mother. Throughout the storytelling, Hester refers back to the children at key points. Important to the story’s delivery are its ominous and frightening aspects. The frame story highlights these aspects and creates a setting for a typical ghost story to be told.

  • For example, the story is based in a past time and has other characters’ stories included within the telling. This creates a layered narrative that simultaneously makes the ghost story believable and unbelievable. Hester even interjects her story with assurances for the children, stating “it might not be true, or it might.”

Hester’s telling leaves the story open to interpretation, giving the story a dynamic nature. Last, the frame story places readers into a state of familiarity with the storyteller. The short-story structure places readers as part of the audience to the old nurse Hester as she tells her story to a group of children. In being a part of her audience, readers are placed at a similar level to the children listening—with Hester as the knowledgeable elder, readers will be less inclined to question her. The frame story may then encourage readers to view Hester’s narrative as valid.

The Ghost Story as a Moral Lesson

At first a spooky and ominous ghost story, “The Old Nurse’s Story” slowly forms into a moral lesson about jealousy, pettiness, and age. The main moral is revealed in the last lines of the story in Miss Furnivall’s frantic mutterings: “What is done in youth can never be undone in age!” While the story includes several ghost-story tropes—such as locked rooms, phantoms, disembodied music, and an old, mysterious house—the moral is revealed to be about the consequences of one’s youthful actions. For example, it is Miss Furnivall’s jealousy and cruelty toward her sister that made her act wrongly when she was young. The consequences of Miss Furnivall’s actions still resound even in her advanced age and inadvertently place others, like young Rosamond, into danger.

Foreshadowing and Gothic Elements

“The Old Nurse’s Story” makes use of several gothic elements and foreshadowing. The main gothic elements within the story work to create an ominous, frightening, and gripping narrative. For example, the story builds its gothic aspects slowly, beginning with a stately old manor inhabited by the elderly Miss...

(The entire section is 626 words.)