Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 460

Like Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s other stories of this period, such as “A Church Mouse” (1889) and “A Poetess” (1890), “A Village Singer” places a woman in conflict with male hierarchy, represented in all three stories by a minister. Here the Reverend Pollard and Candace Whitcomb have both served the same church for forty years. He sometimes hesitates in his speech, and Candace indicates that his sermons lack the freshness they once possessed. Yet no one gives him a photograph album and asks him to leave his post. The choirmaster, Williams Emmons, has held his position for decades and is older than Candace. If her voice has deteriorated, logically his must have also. Yet no one gives him a farewell photograph album. Again, as a male, he can remain choirmaster as long he as he likes.

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Candace rightly feels betrayed on various levels. As an artist, she knows that her voice is still good. Moreover, she tells Reverend Pollard that salvation does not depend on anyone’s hitting a high note. A church should exhibit Christian charity. She also is hurt as a woman. For decades the choirmaster had sung duets with Candace and had walked her home after Saturday night choir practice. Villagers expected him to propose marriage to her. Instead, he supports her dismissal and sides with Alma in the ensuing conflict.

Even her nephew turns on her. He knows that her will leaves him all she owns, and both know that this legacy will allow him to obtain the happiness that eluded Candace. Still, he shows no sympathy toward her or even a willingness to discuss her grievance. He reacts to her pain with threats of violence.

Again like other Freeman heroines, Candace refuses to succumb to this male hierarchy. Here her triumph is short-lived because her resistance drains all her energy. Still, she has not gone gently into that good night, and on her deathbed she exhibits a mixture of Christian forbearance and independence that allows her to retain the reader’s sympathy. She takes no revenge on her nephew, apologizes to the minister, and seeks reconciliation with her rival. At the same time, when William Emmons comes to inquire about her, she lets him go away without seeing her; and she criticizes Alma’s singing. Candace’s strength is evident also in her nephew’s dependence on her. He would like to earn enough to buy a house and support a wife, but he has been unable to do so. He needs a woman—his aunt—to supply the means that permit him to live as he wants. Candace yields to illness, but no man could have stopped her from pursuing her independent course, from refusing to surrender to the men who would render her superannuated.

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