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Essay/Term paper: In "a new england nun"

Essay, term paper, research paper:  English Composition

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In "A New England Nun", Mary E. Wilkins Freeman depicts the

life of the classic New England spinster. The image of a spinster

is of an old maid; a woman never married waiting for a man. The

woman waiting to be married is restricted in her life. She does

chores and receives education to make her more desirable as a


This leads to the allegories used in this short story. The

protagonist life paralleled both of her pets' lives, her dog

Caesar's and that of her little yellow canary. Both comparisons

are of restriction and fear of freedom. The animals and the woman

of this story are irreversible tamed by their captivity, and no

longer crave freedom. Ideas of sin guilt and atonement are also

present between the woman and the dog. These images typify

nineteenth century beliefs of women and their place in society.

This story of Louisa Ellis is an allegory for woman, and uses the

levels of allegory ironically. The stories of the dog and the

bird layer the theme to help represent Louisa's life, who in turn

represents the Eighteenth century woman of society. Louisa's

animals and their relationship to her suitor are further links

between her and her pets. The suitor brings out different traits

than the norm in both the animals and the woman of this story.

The man's influence is seen as disruptive. Man is seen as a

threat to the serenity and security of a spinster's life.

Imagery put forth by this story, and by stereotypes of the

day is of the new England spinster. Women who were not married

yet, lived a life of chores and piousness. They learned their

domestic chores and other things that would make them presentable

as a wife. They did gardening work, read literature, mended

clothing and the sort. These women were dependent on men to come

and take them, to change their lives. Those who were not chosen

were called old maids or spinsters. They typically were wealthy

enough not work, so they lived a singular existence at their

homes. Their homes became prisons. Leaving the home was possible

but there was nothing out of their home environment, so they were

left with no other choice but to lead their domestic life. The

routine of their domestic chores became a part of their essence

leading to the almost manic neatness of Louisa's home.

Louisa was upset by Joe Dagget when he disturbs her

autograph book and her gift book. She has a specific placement of

the books. Joe transposes the order when he finished looking at

them. This annoys her greatly, so she returns the books to their

original order as if was compulsive. The order of her house like

the structure of her life gave Louisa a sense of security. She

becomes nervous if not angry when Joe later knocks over her work

basket. The order of her house is so compulsively exact that she

feels the need to remove his tracks from the rug.

Joe Dagget and Louisa Ellis were engaged for over fourteen

years. He went to Australia to make his fortune, while Louisa

waited patiently for Joe's return. While Joe was away her mother

and brother both died leaving her alone. She became used to

solitude and even grew fond of it. When Joe returned he disturbed

her life, just as he disturbed her work basket.

Louisa's dog Caesar was chained up in the yard. He lived a

lonely existence with only his dog house and a couple feet of

chain in his world. Caesar was a prisoner of his home as Louisa

was a prisoner to her's. The dog became accustomed to solitude

and would not know any other way of existence. Joe came back

after fourteen years to take Louisa away from her prison, but

also would have freed the dog. Joe said " . . . and it's down-

right cruel to keep him tied up there. Someday I'm going to take

him out." Louisa objects to this fearing the animal nature of the

dog that had laid dormantly for fourteen years.

Around the same time as Louisa and Joe became engaged,

Caesar bit one of the Ellis's neighbors. He bit the man leaving

teeth impressions in the neighbors hand. This man demanded that

either the dog be destroyed or to remain tied up. Louisa's

brother built the dog house for Caesar, and that is where he has

remained since. Caesar in reality was good natured but committed

one transgression. He paid for his actions for the rest of his

life. The dog after the incident never barked loudly, almost out

of guilt.

Louisa also had a transgression fourteen years before the

time of this narrative. She had a lover. According to the

narrative Joe Dagget was Louisa's first lover. In a way she

became tied to her home as Caesar is chained to his dog house for

her sin. She waited fourteen years, possibly out of a guilty

sense of obligation to her first lover. Both She and Caesar lived

a quiet and serene life that would be turned upside down with the

impending marriage. Both would have their ways of life radically


Lousia feared her passion; she feared the setting loose of

her passion. Louisa worried that once floodgates were opened,

they could not be closed. She transposed this fear upon the dog's

wildness. Louisa feared that if the dog was to be set loose, that

he would go on a rampage and attack the whole town. "She

pictured to herself Caesar on the rampage though the quiet town

and unguarded village. She saw innocent children bleeding in his

path." The dog was old and was not capable of such an act. Joe

Dagget recognized this, leading to his desire to free the dog.

Louisa on the other hand may have still been able to have passion

that led to irrational fears of letting loose, the dog or

herself. Out of fear that the dog would go mad, Louisa would not

let the dog taste of flesh, only corn meal. She feared that the

taste of flesh would bring out the animal in the dog. Over the

fourteen years she kept herself celibate to keep her own passion


Louisa could also be compared to her little yellow canary.

The songbird in a cage, is a commonly used literary device. It

described the position of women who had sufficient economic

status not to work. They like the birds were objects of beauty

that were shown. Both were performers who were forced to live in

cages, Louisa performed for Joe and society and the bird

performed for Louisa. One difference between the two is, that

Louisa's cage had a garden. The bird had to sing and the woman

had to act with grace.

The canary reacted to Joe's entering the house in a way that

is akin to Louisa's emotions.

He seemed to fill the whole room. A little yellow

canary that had been asleep in its green cage at the

south window woke up and fluttered wildly, beating its

little yellow wings against the wires. He always did so

when Joe Dagget came into the room.

This passage shows though the bird, the feelings of anxiety she

had over the impending marriage. She has a claustrophobic feeling

of Joe invading her space as shown by the comment on how he fills

the entire room.

The canary lays in dormant peace until disturbed by the

entrance by Joe. Louisa in the fourteen years of waiting came

into her own. She was accustomed to her space and Joe took up too

much of this precious space. He would throw chaos into her

rigidly ordered world. She was the queen of her home and did not

want to share control with Joe's mother. When married they would

have moved into Joe's house with his mother.

Louisa would give up her solitude and her control, both of

which she feared. The restrictions of her life kept her passions

in, and she did not want to change this. Much as she would not

let the bird free from its cage to fly free. The bird if freed,

never could be returned to the cage. Louisa thought, if she were

let out of her proverbial cage she would never again be able to

enjoy it's security.

When Louisa overheard Joe and Lily Dyer, she had an excuse

to break off the marriage. Though she wanted to marry, she

subconsciously wanted a way out of the wedding. She did not want

to unchain the dog or move from the peace and security of her

spinster life. The solitude of her life brought her contentment.

She did not want her cage rattled. The canary did not want the

man's disturbance, showing Louisa's feelings "Now the little

canary might turn itself into a peaceful yellow ball night after

night, and have no need to wake and flutter with wild terror

against its bars."

The years, fourteen to be exact, tamed Louisa. She liked her

life; she came to enjoy serenity. Louisa like any tamed animal

grows accustomed to their situation. The dog Caesar would

probably not know what to do with himself if he were set loose.

Louisa similarly would not know how to adjust to married life,

after such a long period of isolation. Joe would be a disruption

to her organized life. Louisa gave up her birthright, a

birthright to a promise of marriage. This did not matter for she

had found another. "Serenity and placid narrowness had become her


To complete the allegory, once an animal is tamed there is

no going back. Louisa Ellis was tamed; she was set in her ways.

Her emotions and feelings were visualized though Caesar the dog

and the little yellow canary. The bird fluttered when she felt

disturbed, it also showed her anxiety toward Joe. The dog

exemplified her domestication. Caesar's lack of a bark and

lethargy represents her need for serenity. The dog does not fight

his chain but accepts it. Louisa accepted her chain, her life of

waiting. She had accepted it to such an extent that she felt safe

with it. When the wait was over, but she did not want to lose the

security of the life she had.  

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