Details of a Nun
In Mary E. Wilkins Freeman's short story "A New England Nun", the main character Louisa Ellis lives in a spotless house secluded from her neighbors with only an old dog named Caesar and a canary as company. Why are these small, seemingly unnecessary details important? Does it truly matter how many aprons Louisa wears or whether or not her fiance Joe Dagget can replace books in a certain order or leave without a track of dust left behind? Throughout the story, these small details both reveal character and anticipate plot.
Louisa's house may seem like just a backdrop to more important details, but is actually one of the most vital components used to accentuate Louisa as a character. The narrator says that Louisa feels "throbs of genuine triumph" when she sees her orderly, clean house which lacks dust and dirt. This serves to inform the reader of Louisa's need for order and cleanliness, which is one of the main reasons she feels ill ...view middle of the document...
This is another element which Louisa would lose if she were to give away her freedom and marry Joe.
In Joe's first visit to Louisa's home, he distractedly fidgets with the two books Louisa has on her table before placing them in the opposite order they had been to begin with, which Louisa swiftly corrects. This obsession on her part makes Joe feel even less comfortable in her presence, for fear that he will make a clumsy mistake. His fears are later realized as he is leaving her house and trips on her rug, knocking over her sewing basket. Louisa's urge to immediately clean the dust from the floor after picking up the sewing basket shows the couple's incompatible natures which, in the end, are a major part of what causes Louisa's decision.
Two small characters who at first seem meaningless are later revealed to be deeply embedded in Louisa's character; Caesar and her small canary. When Joe enters the house, the canary flies around its cage in a fit of terror, instead of curling into a ball as it typically does every day. This panic is the same as Louisa's at the return of Joe. She serenely goes through her daily routine, which is broken by her fiance's visits. After her choice to call off the wedding, both Louisa and her canary can happily return to their peaceful existence.
Louisa's brother left her Caesar, who has been secured in the back yard practically his entire life. Joe states at one point that he will let the dog loose once he and Louisa are married, which terrifies her. She is sure that if Caesar were to be liberated, he would rampage through the town and repeat the offense he is chained for: biting a neighbor. This reveals a piece of Louisa's character which is buried deep inside of her. If she marries Joe, all of the desires and passions she has held within her for so long will be set free, just like Caesar. Her fear of being released also leads up to the conclusion of the story.
The details throughout the story, from Louisa's home to her canary are all small, easily overlooked facts. However, they all serve to reveal the characters of Louisa and Joe, as well as anticipate the final outcome. Although all of these details seem unnecessary, the story would be incomplete without them.