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A New England Nun By Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

944 words - 4 pages

Marriage is often viewed as an expected aspect of life that is necessary in order to be a whole and happy person. Louisa, of Mary E. Wilkin Freeman's 'A New England Nun', goes against this custom. When presented with the opportunity to marry, she rejects it. To her, a solitary life of domestic activities translates into happiness and contentment, while a married life is unfavorable and would actually make her unhappy due to the absence of her precious activities and the constant presence of a coarse and indelicate man.

        Domestic activities? One may ask. How could activities as mundane as setting the table or sewing possibly satisfy someone? While these activities are not viewed as fulfilling for the majority of people, they are actually a part of who Louisa is and she could not do without them. At one point, as Louisa is going through her methodic daily activities, the narrator describes her actions. 'She quilted her needle carefully into her work, which she folded precisely, and laid in a basket with her thimble and thread and scissors. Louisa Ellis could not remember that ever in her life she had mislaid one of these little feminine appurtenances, which had become, from long use and constant association, a very part of her personality.' These little activities are so important to her that they actually constitute her identity. This is so because it is these activities that give her pleasure in life. 'She used to occupy herself pleasantly in the summer weather with distilling the sweet and aromatic essences from roses and peppermint and spearmint,' describes the narrator. 'Louisa dearly loved to sew a linen seam, not always for use, but for the simple, mild pleasure which she took in it. Sitting at her window during long sweet afternoons, drawing her needle gently through the dainty fabric, she was peace itself.' Without these, she could not be happy.

        It is because of this that these activities--the distilling, the sewing, the quilting--are invaluable to Louisa and why she could not possibly fathom a life without them. As she is pondering the issue of marriage, she realizes that if she were to get married, 'there were some peculiar features of her happy solitary life which she would probably be obliged to relinquish altogether. Sterner tasks than these graceful but half-needless ones would probably devolve upon her. There would be a large house to care for; there would be company to entertain; there would be Joe [her lover]'s rigorous and feeble old mother to wait upon; and it would be contrary to all thrifty village traditions for her to keep more than one servant.' This busy schedule would keep Louisa from her activities, and her 'neat, maidenly...

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