Monday, September 20, 2010

Jewett, Country of Pointed Firs, Day #2

--What are the "places" here? What sorts of spaces are invested with emotion here? How are they described and what do they tell us about Jewett's vision of the way people inhabit the coastal Maine area?

--Critics have long drawn attention to the ways in which this is a world dominated by women. Compare the ways in which women and men are characterized in this narrative. What do you think Jewett is saying about differences between men and women in this region?

--I mentioned before that this work is often called a "masterpiece," but just as often that praise is modified by the qualifier "minor." To what extent do you think Jewett's avoidance of 'big' topics and rejecting a more coherent narrative arc limits this work? Or do these choices honor the lives of her marginal characters?


  1. The region that Jewitt seems to be painting for us is one that is primarily by women. Personally, I do not think this is due to a region dominated by women, or at least in the sense these critics seems to be taking it in. The world that Jewitt is describing is the scenery and society kept up by women. She describes scenes of people working in the gardens or outside taking with other women. It s seems that in this region the whole town is the home that is taken care of by women, and in that sense, this a place dominated by women. Whatever image and feel that this area has it has due to the hands of the women in this place. Jewitt does not seem to mention men much at all during the readings. There is a scene in which a man by the name of Captain Littlepage comes into Jewitt's room. Upon entering he extends the courtesy of bowing to Ms. Jewitt. Here we are presented with this idea of man's submission to the women. The men that we are presented with throughout this book seem to be here to serve women. I feel Jewitt seems to be making this statement that in this society there is a respect and courtesy for women and that this idea of Littlepage is a pretty good depiction of the role of men. Women are the 'housekeepers' of this region and they keep things very beautiful. Men seem to me more for the benefit of women. A bit different from what most societies may view women. I feel that this also may be a bit of a more bias view due to writer, but in that same breath we cannot discredit the information we are being given. This does seem to be a more simple culture.

  2. It is important to note that both the male and female characters in this narrative are older. The male characters are either being talked about after death, or are portrayed as older than the female characters, whether or not they are. This is true sometimes because of the adjective 'old' placed in front of their names, such as Old Elijah Tilley, or because sometimes the female characters speak of the men as if they were losing their minds, like with Captain Littlepage. William is accosted, teasingly, by Mrs. Todd. Either way it almost seems as the men take a subordinate role in this narrative. They seem to be past their prime, and they speak of times past, while the female characters seem to rule in the present. The majority of the characters are female and this helps enforce the idea of the dominance of women in this society. I think Jewett is saying that women have lost their men to the sea and old age, and so have become more independent, and learned how to build a society that allows widows to support themselves. The men in this society have had their importance diminished, and their roles and existence do not affect women in this area as they do in others where the gender population is more even. When women become the majority of the population they take on bigger and more independent roles. Jewett is illustrating this for the reader, and this phenomenon adds to the regionalism of this piece of fiction.

  3. I want to take a different path than the first two posts and discuss the idea of places and spaces invested with emotion throughout this book.

    Jewett takes an extremely different look on New England than Thoreau (at least to me), and specifically the Maine coastline. She in many ways talks about the idea of people viewing the coastline as majestic. I in many ways saw it as the narrative thinking of Maine and the surrounding nature as offering so many options and opportunities. More specifically, I came to this thought when reading the final passage from chapter IX (9), "William."

    She says on page 44, "At the end, near the woods, we could climb up on it and walk along to the highest point; there above the circle of pointed firs we could look down over all the island, and could see the ocean that circled this and a hundred other bits of island-ground, the mainland shore and all the far horizons. ..." For the sake of not writing the last sentence and making it an extremely long citation, the narrator talking of going to the highest point, and far horizons, it gives me the sense of Maine's coastline offering endless opportunity. Following that passage, William says, "'There ain't no such view in the world, I expect."

  4. To what extent do you think Jewett's avoidance of 'big' topics and rejecting a more coherent narrative arc limits this work? Or do these choices honor the lives of her marginal characters?

    As we discussed in class, this novel could be argued to be more of a series of short stories, and I agree. It doesn't follow the structure of other novels you would normally read. I think that Jewett's avoidance of 'big' topics doesn't completely limit her work. At times I found myself wondering if anything of any substantial importance was going to happen in the book or if it really was just a series of short stories. It does not have much of a plot at all. But I really think that her choices honored the characters in her books. Her structure and chapters are simple, like her characters. Her style of writing is light-hearted and earthy, much like her characters as well. She describes her characters in an organic way that they almost seem to become part of the land that she describes. I think that this novel was kind of refreshing. It broke out of the stereotypical novel structure and seemed somewhat "nostalgic" to me. The Dunnet Landing community is timeless in a world that is ever changing. I think that Jewett is making a personal commentary by choosing to focus so much on the characters like Mrs. Todd and Mrs. Blackett rather than plot. These down-to-earth, humble, hardworking type of people are becoming a disappearing race.

  5. As we discussed in class on Tuesday, Jewett chooses to portray her female and male characters in entirely different ways. Through the qualities we determined out of our group discussions, it became blatantly clear that the female characters were the stronger of the narrative. While looking over the male characters, I was struck by one main theme, they had all been broken in some way by the world around them and were unable to move on. The women, however, were constant, like the landscape. They were strong and able to withstand the weathering around them. They were able to live through their loved ones at sea, whether they returned or not, and it seemed like if the men didn't die at sea, they died in the sense that they were unable to grow or to thrive while at home.

  6. The character roles in this book seem to be flipped from what we normally think of for men and women. The women are strong, independent, and reliable, while the men are shy, a little crazy, and solitary. The men all seem to hold a flaw, as we talked about in class. The flaw is that none of them are the 'ideal' man. Jewett is breaking the normality of characters. Authors tend to focus around a strong male character, but Jewett does not. In stead she has strong female characters. I don't think she is trying to make a profound statement about society or anything, but she seems to be doing it on purpose. This book is centered around its characters, so it is very important to look at the traits that make up these characters carefully, especially since there is no plot line to study.

  7. I would have to agree that this is now a world dominated by women. In my mind this is a problem. That problem is rooted in the failure of men to step up as leaders. Men are broken. Most men survive on pride and when that pride is broken, men have a habit let humility break them as a whole instead of make them more whole. As a result, we have a cycle of a world of broken men who cannot put their pride aside in order to lead their families. Therefore, women take advantage and use man's brokenness to control them. All of this is done subconsciously, but all of this is truth. The characters in this book are perfect examples of this.

    All of the men are broken by the past. They lack confidence and they don't step up as the men to lead. The women fill this void. They are the confident ones. They step up as the leaders. They control the town.

    Jewett is a great author because of the way that she can bring us into the lives of the characters. I feel as if i know them and I miss the fact that I will never hear of them again. Brokenness is the bind. Brokenness is what they all have in common. It is what makes them who they are. And that is why i feel so close to them.

  8. This novel reminded me of movies such as "Now and Then" or "Fried Green Tomatoes" because of the female narrative and because of the strong female characters throughout. What separates this novel from those movies are how the men are portrayed (besides intentional lack of plot). Captain Little is old and often referred to as a little off topic, or loopy. William while seemlingly sweet and giving, is a recluse, is 60 years old and is living with his mother. Elijah Tiley is first described as "evasive and uncomfortable person". To get to the point, the men all lack credibility in some way, and especially so when compared to gender norms. What was the purpose of portraying the men as such? -Especially when all of the women in the novel have a strong, independent regal about them that further contrasts the men. It could do with the possibility that the author herself is a female. It could be that the Dunnet Landing had a necessity for resourceful women, otherwise the place would wither away. It could be a reflection of the time period, and the author felt the need to create a piece with this type of portrayl of women; hence the lack of plot, to close in on the characters even more.

    I think this piece has a reflection in today's society where now 60% of women are the breadwinners in households. This novel dares to address a world where men are just in fact not needed.


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