Most people, when forced to give up the one thing they truly love, would rather see it be destroyed than in the hands of another person. In "Old Woman Magoun," by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, the old woman is in that position. She is burdened with relinquishing custody of her granddaughter, Lily, to the child's father. Throughout the story, the old woman faces an inner struggle over caring for and, ultimately, losing her granddaughter. She deals with her struggle in a very realistic, human response.
Old Woman Magoun is a woman who refuses to be disobeyed or disagreed with. She has a peculiar command over all those in her company. "No one had dared openly gainsay the old woman" (Freeman, 362). The only person she cannot make "visibly cower" (361) is Nelson Barry, Lily's father. He is the only one that shows any disregard towards the old woman. Old Woman Magoun and Nelson Barry never agree with each other in any way. The old woman has been especially cautious of Barry ever since her daughter died and she had to take care of Lily. After an undesired and unforeseen encounter between the girl and Barry, the old woman is informed that she must hand over the girl. Feeling helpless and having no control over the situation, she feels forced to make a major decision to prevent the young girl from, what she feels, would be a grave predicament.
Old Woman Magoun most likely feels responsible for Lily's situation and her own daughter's demise and has learned to fear men as a result of it. She fears the girl's father because he represents the part of herself that she cannot control, Lily. She has no choice but to give up her granddaughter and she cannot bear to lose her to the man she despises, Nelson Barry. Facing the reality of losing Lily is more than the old woman is readily prepared for.
In many of her stories, Freeman "invests the women with power and yet simultaneously limits their power"...
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