A Gathering Light

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  • Topic: A Northern Light, Chester Gillette, An American Tragedy
  • Pages : 5 (1924 words )
  • Download(s) : 2121
  • Published : May 28, 2008
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What is the significance of the representation of race and power in “a Gathering Light”? Analyse the representation of marginalised characters and groups in the novel and evaluate their significance and the ideologies communicated through their roles and choices.

Set in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York, the book is focused on the life of a 16-year-old girl named Mattie Gokey. She is the oldest daughter of a widowed farmer, and with that title comes enormous responsibilities on the farm. The problem, though, is that she does not want to be a farm girl all her life. She is a very talented writer, and her teacher's involvement has led to her being accepted on scholarship to Barnard College in New York City. She faces a crossroads decision in her life: does she stay home and honor a promise made to her deceased mother, or does she leave to follow her own dream? In the midst of this decision, Mattie gets a summer job at a lodge on Big Moose Lake. It is there she meets Grace Brown, who hands her a bundle of letters on the premise that Mattie is to burn them. Later, before Mattie can carry out the task, Grace turns up dead in the lake. Mattie, unable to quell her curiosity, begins reading the letters. As she pieces together Grace's life and realizes why she ended up dead, Mattie is also able to come to terms with her own place in life and what she needs to do. While the murder case in the book is based on a real event, the author used artistic license in adapting the story. Most notably, Grace hands Mattie both letters that Chester Gillette had written to her and letters that she had written to Chester. In reality, Grace was only in possession of the letters Chester wrote to her; the letters from Grace to Chester were discovered later.

Mattie Gokey, aged 16, the eldest daughter of a widowed farmer, who wins a college scholarship and wants to become a writer. Emily Baxter is an unconventional poet who has written poems controversial enough that they have been burned and condemned by the highest authorities. Her husband, who does not approve of Emily's poetry, tries to get her committed and eventually, she flees to Paris. Under the name of Miss Wilcox, she acts as a teacher and friend to the main character, Mattie. She also helps Mattie achieve her dream of going to college. Weaver Smith is the only black boy in the entire area and Mattie's best friend. He worked at the Glenmore Hotel along with Mattie in order to earn money for the train ticket to New York City, where he would attend Colombia University. Royal Loomis is a handsome but dull boy who Mattie and many other girls are sweet on. Although he doesn't understand Mattie's love for books and words, after spending some time together, he asks to marry her.

Jennifer Donnelly grew up on the outskirts of the Adirondacks hearing tales and ballads of the 1906 murder of Grace Brown, a pregnant nineteen-year-old drowned by her lover in Big Moose Lake. Donnelly's great-grandmother had been working at a hotel on the lake when the murder took place. Her firsthand account, reinforced by Donnelly's reading of Theodore Dreiser's novel concerning the same murder, stirred Donnelly's curiosity. Dreiser's novel, An American Tragedy, renders the couple's plight as a dark outcome of the American dream gone awry. What captured Donnelly's imagination, however, was Grace herself and how she could have been any nineteen-year-old girl. Upon reading the transcripts of Chester Gillette's trial and hearing Grace's voice through the letters used as evidence, the presence of the young woman haunted Donnelly. She felt a genuine grief which was alleviated through writing Grace's story and giving it fresh meaning. Out of that need was born the character of Mattie Gokey, the sixteen-year-old hotel employee who witnesses Grace's body being pulled from the lake the evening after Grace asks her to burn her love letters. In piecing together the story of Grace's life and death...
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