A Nun of a Different Cloth
In Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s “A New England Nun”, Freeman tells the story of Louisa Ellis, a young woman who, due to circumstances beyond her own control, becomes the embodiment of a nun of a different cloth. Louisa patiently waits 14 years for her fiancé Joe Dagget to return from his fortune-seeking in Australia. During this time Louisa learns to value her solitary life. Her days are spent ripping out seams for the joy of resewing them, distilling her herbs and flowers, and eating her meals off fine china (Baym et al., 2008 p.1621, 1624). When Joe suddenly returns, Louisa’s peaceful way of living is threatened. Through the use of subtle irony and a nun-like character, Freeman demonstrates how a woman forced into a life of independence comes to desire it rather than the socially accepted role of wife. Freeman uses an understated touch of irony when describing the circumstances which lead to Louisa’s independence. After being engaged for a short time, Joe leaves Louisa to go make his fortune before settling down. Adhering to society’s beliefs that a woman must acquiesce to man, Louisa sends Joe away with a kiss, never thinking his absence would span fourteen years. Louisa waits year after year for Joe and “always looked forward to his return and their marriage as the inevitable conclusion of things” (Baym et al., 2008, p. 1624). It is the marriage waiting at the end of this separation which keeps Louisa from being ridiculed by society. However, it is this socially accepted situation which later teaches Louisa to love her independence. Epitomizing the nun-like quality of purity, Louisa chastely awaits the return of Joe. During this time Louisa was happy on her own and “never dreamed of the possibility of marrying anyone else” (Baym et al., 2008, p. 1623). While this may seem to hold romantic notions, it is anything but. Freeman states that “for Louisa...