The Country of the Pointed Firs: New England

Published: 2021-08-02 19:20:08
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Category: New England

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Writing in the nineteenth century, Sarah Orne Jewett adopts one of the most contemporaneous literary devices in 'The Country of the Pointed Firs,' producing a realistic portrayal of American life, whilst setting her scene specifically in the New England town of Dunnet Landing. Various authors of this period embraced this variation of 'realism' known as 'regionalism' due to its potential for the exploration of particular social issues, matters which could not be portrayed as effectively without a physical setting to intensify their significance.
Caroline Zilboorg outlines this literary movement as often including 'vivid depictions of particular experience' one which explores 'the meaning of age, race, class and gender as well as region. ' Although undertaking this technique of regionalist writing, the landscape Jewett writes about is merely a small garden at the back of a New England village house, whereas the majority of authors engage in writing about significantly larger and more expansive areas.
Despite this, Jewett is just as able to employ her chosen area in the exploration of the attitudes and beliefs in those living there. The narrator's tone varies through the piece, initially perceiving the garden and its contents with little more than acknowledgement of its presence, describing it rather cynically as being 'retired and sheltered. ' However, as the narrator continues to describe the surroundings, the reader gains the impression that the garden is of greater significance even to the narrator than originally thought.

The narrator's tone appears to gain a nostalgic tone as the description progresses, almost as the speaker is being overwhelmed by the sheer abundance of its contents. To reinforce this, the narrator's depiction first appears to be rather vague and uninteresting, yet speedily becomes a vivid portrayal of all that is alive in the confined space. The reader gains a sense that almost as though against his will, the narrator has become enraptured by his surroundings, first focusing on the queerness of the arrangement of greenery, then pausing to admire the sea-breezes laden with the sweet smells of various herbs.
This detailed contrast to the rather simplistic introduction provokes the reader into wondering why the narrator seems reluctant to take pleasure in surroundings which he obviously recognises as beautiful. The narrator's own words delineate him as being a keen admirer of the garden, finding himself 'confronted with great pride and pleasure in the display,' yet the opening sentences reveal the speaker's more withdrawn perception of a landscape he later admits finding picturesque.
The latter half of the text indicates the narrator's desire discontinue 'seein' folk,' yet the manner in which he describes the garden suggests that the opening paragraph was merely a method of convincing himself that this is indeed what he wants. This sceptical attitude is dissolved however and replaced with nostalgic reminiscing once the splendour has been rediscovered. The structure of the piece reinforces this idea, for the length sentences serve to have the effect of almost drawing the reader into the body of the text, paralleling the narrator's feelings of being redrawn into the garden he desires to leave.
Due to the sheer amount of detailed features contained within the garden, the narrator's portrayal begins with one basic aspect, in this instance 'two or three hollyhocks and some London-pride were pushed back against the gray-shingled wall,' which eventually progresses into a vivid account of the true subject matter, in this case the narrator's companion, Mrs Todd. Such a methods is similar to that of author Robert Frost, likewise a keen writer of New England landscape.
Frost similarly starts with a simple concept such as an explicit description of a scene or a narrator's surroundings which subsequently develops into a more complex depiction of either the narrator himself or how the scene affects his mood. Jewett likewise begins with a description of the greenery which builds up into unintentionally revealing the narrator's feelings towards his companion. The speaker's portrayal of Mrs Todd therefore begins with a general description, picturing her as ' a very large person', 'an ardent lover of herbs. Already in this basic depiction, the narrator unconsciously begins to explore the character of Mrs Todd through his comprehensive language, using words such as 'ardent' to portray to the reader how highly Mrs Todd values her garden. Her care of the garden, and her assistance to the local community in the form of herbal remedies pictures her as a caring welcoming woman, yet, her statue and overall presence reveal a more domineering even controlling persona.
Jewett states that 'her full skirts brushed and bent all the rest,' (of the flowers her feet missed. ) It has been suggested as an enforcement of this point, that her responsibility in caring for the garden also portrays a more authoritative side to her character, a subconscious desire to dominate. In this respect, it is both Mrs Todd and the narrator who subconsciously feel drawn by the garden and what it represents. Nevertheless, Mrs Todd can be seen as a mothering figure, from the rounded figure to her name, depicting her a warm and welcoming character.
Additionally, the reader openly recognises Mrs Todd's wisdom, yet only mentions her knowledge concerning the usage of herbs and other such greenery. The reader however, can note that Mrs Todd also appears to be a more 'worldly' figure than merely knowledgeable on plant life, for she does not show any ill feelings towards the speaker, instead becomes 'more wistfully affectionate than ever. ' Her understanding response to the narrator's decision to leave enforces her kindly character, yet ironically may make it harder for the speaker to leave in such pleasant circumstances.
The reader can imagine that Mrs Todd what with her dedication to garden and contents would not be an companion the speaker would want to in any way disappoint or frustrate. Despite the narrator's eagerness to leave, the reader can assume that unknowingly, they have established their own terms between them, conveyed through the narrator's language, 'what we called 'seein' folks', and referring to 'our business. '

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