Life Alone in Mary E. Wilkins Freeman's A New England Nun
It is hard to imagine a life in American society without first picturing marriage in a church, white picket fences, and babies. Life alone for those who turn from marriage and children can be seen as a promise of loneliness. Yet choosing not to get married or to have children does not mean unhappiness. In the words of Anne Morrow Lindbergh: “There is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before” (qtd. in Family Circle 184 ). One may suppose that she too read “A New England Nun” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman. In this short story, Freeman makes a statement that transcends the eleven pages, and that statement suggests life alone and uninterrupted with no children or a marriage can be as wonderful and rich as a life with another.
To establish a context for isolation, Freeman first introduces the reader to the character of Louisa Ellis at peace in her neat home. A woman of immaculate nature, Louisa values neatness as well as patience and calmness. An excellent representation of her character is her house which Freeman describes in these lines:
The little square table stood exactly in the centre of the kitchen, and was covered
with a starched linen cloth whose border pattern of flowers glistened. Louisa had
a damask napkin on her tea-tray, where were arranged a cut-glass tumbler full of
teaspoons, a silver cream–pitcher, a china sugar-bowl, and one pink china cup and saucer. (63)
Louisa’s organization in the house shows that she is as organized on the inside as well. That is to say, her emotions and thoughts are compartmentalized. As a result, she does not find the life she leads by herself very difficult, for by living alone she can have her house the way she wants it and go at the pace she wants to go. Louisa is not only organized but a bit obsessive over cleanliness as shown by the following lines:
Then she set the lamp on the floor, and began sharply examining the carpet. She even rubbed her fingers over it, and looked at them. “He’s tracked in a good deal
of dust,” she murmured. “I thought he must have.”(65)
During Joe’s visit Louisa was more concerned about the house staying clean and organized while he was there, then she was concerned about what Joe had to say. Her house, like her life, comes before love for a man.
Louisa does appreciate the life that she leads, but fourteen years ago she wanted a life with another. As the story unfolds, the reader finds out the Louisa has been engaged for fourteen years to Joe Dagget. For fourteen years she has had to do without a man while supporting herself and her now deceased mother. Alone after the death of her only family, her brother and her mother, she has found peace in solitude, for her once fluttering feelings of love for Joe had stopped their movement....