The Town Poor Summary
by Sarah Orne Jewett

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The Town Poor Summary

Mrs. William Trimble and Miss Rebecca Wright trundle along in Mrs. Trimble's horse drawn carriage on Hampden east road, discussing the hard winter that is thankfully almost drawing to a close.

"There must be a good deal o' snow to the nor'ard of us yet," said weather-wise Mrs. Trimble. "I feel it in the air; 't is more than the ground damp. We ain't goin' to have real nice weather till the up-country snow's all gone."

Miss Rebecca Wright says she is more worried about the poor people up in Parsley.

"I heard say yesterday that there was good sleddin' yet, all up through Parsley," responded Miss Wright. "I shouldn't like to live in them northern places."

Miss Trimble agrees:

I've always been grateful I wa'n't born up to Parsley.

On a whim, they decide to visit their two friends Anna and Mandana Bray at their farmhouse. Though now old and frail, and living in impoverished conditions, the two sisters rarely complain, making best of what Mrs. Trimble and Miss Wright say are difficult conditions. It isn't even their fault, claims Mrs. Trimble:

A man [the sister's preacher father] ought to provide for his folks he's got to leave behind him, specially if they're women. To be sure, they had their little home; but we've seen how, with all their industrious ways, they hadn't means to keep it.

The conditions the Brays live in are worse than they imagined. While their landlady Jane lives in the main part of the house, the two sisters live in a small, bare low-ceiling room described as

more bare and plain than was fitting to their evident refinement of character and self respect.

Yet despite the conditions and the fact that Anna has her arm in a sling, the place

was filled with a golden spirit of hospitality.

The sisters kindly prepare a modest tea of cheese, crackers, and peaches, and by the time Mrs. Trimble and Mrs. Wright leave, they are determined that the Bray sisters are

going back to their own house . . . an' the town's goin' to give 'em the rent an' what firewood they need.

Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Mrs. William Trimble, an independent and comfortably fixed widow, and Miss Rebecca Wright, a spinster who is dependent and of marginal means, discuss the impact of the severe weather on farmers in nearby Parsley as the two women journey home in Mrs. Trimble’s horse-drawn carriage. Although the two women are friends, the author emphasizes the differences between them by having the narrator shift the focus from their conversation to their demeanor—how they respond to the ride and to the cold. Mrs. Trimble, an “active business woman” who has been obliged to handle her affairs in all types of weather, is accustomed to riding in the open air. Miss Wright readily shows that she is uncomfortable.

Mrs. Trimble is more than industrious and self-sufficient. She is a generous woman who takes some interest in the affairs of Hampden’s needy; she is a Lady Bountiful of a sort. Miss Wright’s dependence on Mrs. Trimble for transportation, her obvious discomfort, and her timidity establish an immediate contrast with Mrs. Trimble. Although the speech of each woman is markedly regional, the differences between Mrs. Trimble and Miss Wright’s speech suggests the difference between their social class and reinforces the differences between their personalities.

As the two drive along a rural road, they discover that they are approaching the farmhouse in which two of their...

(The entire section is 877 words.)