Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 549
In the first part of ‘‘The Wives of the Dead,’’ the narrator assures readers his tale is ‘‘scarcely worth relating,’’ then proceeds to tell it in detail. A hundred years ago, in the early eighteenth century, two "young and comely'' (attractive) women in a Massachusetts seaport town married brothers and set up house together. In ‘‘two successive’’ days, they learn of their husbands' deaths: one is lost at sea, while the other is killed fighting the French and Indians in Canada. The British battled with the French for control of North America at this time, and colonists from the Bay colonies often fought on the Canadian frontier. Though many townspeople turn out to offer their sympathy, the women want to be left alone to console each other.
After the mourners leave, Mary, the more practical and disciplined of the pair, prepares dinner, but Margaret, distraught and bitter, cannot eat. The two go to bed, and although Mary falls asleep easily, temporarily forgetting her loss, Margaret remains awake, in a "feverish" state, gazing at the living room both couples had shared and grieving the past. Hawthorne uses imagery of light, in terms of the hearth and the lamp, to suggest the warmth of the past and the coldness of the present.
While trying to sleep, Margaret hears a knock at the door and, reluctantly, answers it, taking the lamp from the hearth with her. Goodman Parker, a neighbor and innkeeper, brings news that Margaret's husband is, in fact, still alive. Speaking of a messenger who recently stopped at Parker's house on his ride through town with news of the frontier, Parker tells Margaret, ‘‘He tells me we had the better in the skirmish you wot of, and that thirteen men reported slain are well and sound, and your husband among them.’’ (The phrase ‘‘wot of’’ means ‘‘know of." "Goodman" was a common name in the American colonies and appeared in other Hawthorne stories (e.g., ‘‘Young Goodman Brown’’). Margaret is elated, but decides not to wake Mary and tell her because it might change the way Mary feels towards her. She...
(The entire section contains 549 words.)
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