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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 251

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There a few themes that are present throughout Sarah Orne Jewett's The Town Poor. The Bray sisters, who are facing serious economic and food insecurity and poor living conditions represent the economically declining state of rural New England. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and rural spaces were no longer able to support stable economies as people moved to the cities for industrial jobs. The sisters' desperate living condition, and their father's loyalty to financially supporting his church over his daughters' quality of life, is symbolic of the hypocrisy that often runs rampant within Christianity. This hypocrisy of following a religion that preaches support for the poor, while choosing to ignore the poverty of one's own family is certainly present in this story. This religious hypocrisy is perhaps a less major theme, but still a potent part of the storyline.

Additionally, sisterhood, in a literal and political sense, is a strongly represented theme throughout this fictional story. The Bray Sisters, while in difficult circumstances, are still supportive of one another and continue to offer hospitably and kindness to the women who visit them. The visiting women, Mrs. Trimble and Miss Wright, are determined to help the Bray sisters, even though the rest of the town has turned away from them, because the town does not want to face the reality of increasing rural poverty. While the women are of different socioeconomic statuses, they still band together in a strong, independent display of sisterhood to provide aid for the Bray sisters.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 182

Through the descriptions of the topography, the hardships of the farmers, and the plight of the Brays, Sarah Orne Jewett comments on the decline of rural New England. Having her characters reflect on the past and the present enables Jewett to criticize and idealize former days. Because Mrs. Trimble is the only independent character in the story, the only one able to influence positively the town leaders, Jewett is extolling the virtues of self-sufficient women.

At the same time, Jewett recognizes the importance of sisterhood and cooperation. Mrs. Trimble provides transportation for Miss Wright and has made arrangements for Miss Wright to stay in the Trimble home for the night. Both women have great sympathy for Mrs. Janes’s complaints. Both demonstrate great sympathy for the Brays. In fact, the visit to the Brays forces Mrs. Trimble and Mrs. Wright to give greater material and emotional support to their disabled friends than they have previously given. The discussions about the Brays explore right and wrong behavior. Ann Bray reinforces the themes of sisterhood and cooperation when she comforts her sobbing sister, Mandana.