‘‘Three Thanksgivings,’’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, was first published in Gilman’s magazine, Forerunner, in 1909. The story and many of the other works published in the magazine have received very little critical attention, since most critics have tended to focus on Gilman’s novella, The Yellow Wallpaper. Nevertheless, ‘‘Three Thanksgivings’’ contains themes that are common to many of Gilman’s stories, including women’s struggle for economic independence despite social pressures and the possibility of women being forced to enter into undesirable marriages. The protagonist, Mrs. Delia Morrison, is a widow who wishes to remain in the house that her father built and where she has lived most of her life. However, in two years, Mrs. Morrison owes a small mortgage to Mr. Peter Butts, a persistent man who hopes to marry her. If she cannot pay the mortgage and interest, she will have to sell the house and live with one of her children or marry Mr. Butts and live with him in her house as his servant. In addition to sharing the traits of many of her other stories, Gilman’s ‘‘Three Thanksgivings’’ gives a portrait of the times, accurately reflecting the attitudes toward women that were prevalent in the early twentieth century—when women were fighting for many rights, including economic independence and the right to vote. A copy of the story can be found in The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Writings, which was published by The Modern Library in 2000.
When ‘‘Three Thanksgivings’’ begins, Mrs. Delia Morrison, a fifty-year-old widow, has just finished reading two letters—one from Andrew and one from Jean, her two children. Both have sent travel money to Mrs. Morrison, asking her to come and stay with them for Thanksgiving. In addition, they have both requested that she sell her house. Andrew is most interested in Mrs. Morrison’s safety, whereas Jean’s husband, Joe, mainly wants to invest her money in his own business.
Mrs. Morrison ponders her financial situation. She has stopped taking in boarders at the Welcome House, a spacious manor built by her deceased father. She hates having boarders and decides that it is useless anyway, since the money is only enough to pay the interest—but not the principal—on her small mortgage. After dinner, Mr. Peter Butts, a friend and lifelong suitor of Mrs. Morrison, pays her a visit. Mr. Butts holds the mortgage on the Welcome House and tries to use this fact to pressure Mrs. Morrison into marriage. He says that if she cannot pay her loan when it is due in two years, she will either have to sell the house or marry him anyway. He also believes that she will not be able to raise the money on her own. Nevertheless, Mrs. Morrison says that she will find a way and politely declines Mr. Butts’s offer.
Mrs. Morrison decides to go to Andrew’s house for Thanksgiving. Although Andrew and his wife, Annie, are gracious, Mrs. Morrison is not happy. She is used to her spacious home, so the room they give her feels very small. Although Mrs. Morrison is a skilled manager—from her many years as a minister’s wife—there is no place for her to help out; Annie, Andrew’s wife, is more than capable enough to help Andrew in his own ministry. In addition, Andrew, Annie, and their neighbors insist on treating Mrs. Morrison as if she is old. She only stays a week before returning to the Welcome House, determined to save her home.
Mrs. Morrison makes a thorough inventory of her assets, finding that her father’s political meetings and her husband’s religious events have helped to increase the stock of supplies in the house. She finds hundreds of extra chairs and a large stock of bedding, towels, and table linens, but she rules out the idea of opening a hotel because the other hotel in Haddleton is never full. She finds a large stock of china and cups, but she rules out the idea of a girls’ school, which would take time and money to establish. As she starts to think of all...
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