Jewett’s Connection to Modern College Life

Photo by Jeff Miller. Copyright held by UW-Madison Communications / Board of Regents University of Wisconsin System. Used for educational purposes only.

Photo by Jeff Miller. Copyright held by UW-Madison Communications / Board of Regents University of Wisconsin System. Used for educational purposes only.

I would like to direct my post to the topic of what Professor Steele referred to as ‘the natural rhythm of life’ in The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett, and look closer at the narrator’s natural rhythm while at Dunnet Landing. Professor Steele repeatedly described this theme in the novel, and pointed out that in life, everything has a beginning, and must eventually end. This point is most prominent in the final chapter of the book: the outline of Dunnet Landing begins to fade in with the sea, and then finally “Dunnet Landing and all its coasts were lost to sight” (139).

The reason that this topic really resonated and impacted me is because I will be graduating from UW in May, and I have not truly accepted this fact yet. Like the narrator, I arrived in Madison not even knowing where to go for a walk, but now I know that there are many delightful things to be done and done again (paraphrased from page 136). In a few short months (which are sure to fly by), Madison and college will fade away for me, just as Dunnet Landing did for the narrator.

I believe that this book could be interpreted in the same way for many other people; I am struck by how relatable it seems, even though it is old and in a pretty different world from ours. Still, the rhythm is easy to spot and relate to when one considers the main points of the book. At first, the narrator must learn about her surroundings, and begins to know what Mrs. Todd is doing based on the sounds she makes in her garden. Next, she begins to fit in and get to know her neighbors, such as Captain Littlepage or Mrs. Todd’s mother and friends. Then, she truly feels that she belongs when she experiences Joana’s old surroundings, and goes to the reunion: “I came near to feeling like a true Bowden, and parted from certain new friends as if they were old friends; we were rich with the treasure of a new remembrance” (117). Finally, she knows she must go and experiences a sad and solemn goodbye and separation from this place.

Despite this being a New England setting with characters that are over a century old, I know how this narrator feels and can relate to her experiences; it probably helps that she is unnamed, making her seem like anyone else.

This may not be the most insightful reading of the text, as none of it seems especially shocking or hard to deny/argue about, but I do think it is important to draw parallels from it to our own lives, because it shows why this book has so much staying power. Plus, it can be kind of fun and interesting to think about how our lives in college are surprisingly similar to a woman taking a summer stay in a new place.

I think it would be great to comment about what kind of parallels you may have found when reading this text, and would like to know if anyone else agrees with my ‘college’ comparison.

– Amanda E.


8 thoughts on “Jewett’s Connection to Modern College Life

  1. Amanda, this is a really fascinating connection and totally makes sense to me. I did not read it in the way that you did but knowing your perception of the story makes the connection obvious to me. We have four short years here at Madison until we are launched into the unknown. When you come to school, your past seems to not be as important as the present, much like Jewett’s narrator who seems to not have a past. Then you make meaningful friendships with a lot of different people (Mrs. Todd, William, Mrs. Blackett, Capt. Littlepage). Before you know it, after you have made a discovery or have had a revelation (narrator’s discovery and interest of Joanna), you leave the place that has made a huge impact on you and things do seem to fade into the next stage of your life.

  2. As a fellow graduating senior, I absolutely can relate. I remember having no idea how to get from my dorm to my science class, and then the the first week of this year I pointed a young couple to Bascom Hill. I like that you mention the unnamed narrator, because I think that could be a purposeful decision. Since the reader is given no identity for the narrator, they’re free to insert themselves into these situations and imagine they are the ones watching time go by and learning the ways of Dunnet Landing. I think that this narrative style is also like Huckleberry Finn, in that you can feel the time passing as Huck’s adventures ensue. The narrator is the voice of time and paces the novel, and the reader relies on them to move the story along. It has a great impact in telling a story about familiarizing yourself with a new place over time.

  3. I too will be graduating from UW this spring and 100% agree. I came out to Madison from New York, so not only was I at a new school, but I was in a totally different state; a different culture even. However, after being here for four years it grew on me, much like Mrs. Todd and her stories grew on the narrator. I cannot believe that my time here in Madison will soon be over, but just like many other chapters in my life, this one is coming to an end. I had this same feeling four years ago when I was graduating from High School. I had started Columbia Prep in the fifth grade, spent eight years of my life growing up with the same 112 people. Within the last year of high school, and the years that followed, the cafeteria, the halls and the school have faded away. I can only imagine the same will happen after I leave Wisconsin.

  4. The reason that I relate to this text so well is the contemporary language use, I can’t decipher any syntactical structure or grammatical framing that hints at the age of the story besides historical nouns that separate it from our current society, i.e. covered wagons. It was the imagery and fragile human sensibilities that resonated amongst my thoughts. In a time of constant distractions and an uncertain future, my senior year has been like a teacup ride at the fair: locked into a porcelain cage and relentlessly spun until the exit, inebriated with dizziness, disoriented, lacking a biological compass to guide me forward on sturdy legs. What I found comforting in Jewett’s lyrical prose is her ability to capture humanity without pretentiousness, making her sentences vibrate with an authenticity that speaks to the reality of my situation. In her concluding paragraph Jewett writes, “Dunnet Landing and all its coasts were lost to sight,” meaning that the past will fade into the haze allowing the coast lines of the future to appear ahead of you.

  5. I love that you applied the themes of this book to your own life! I must admit this was a tough read for me as I found it to be dull and not easy to relate to, but reading this post makes me think about it in a whole new way. I thought that Professor Steele’s motive in choosing this book for the course was just to exemplify realism and “verisimilitude,” but you do a great job of applying it in terms that are still relevant. I think that exemplifies why this book is still a classic today; many situations can clearly be related to it as it does have a generalizable plot. Ultimately, that’s what literature really should do: make us examine and question our own lives as we read the text. I now look at this book with much more poignancy than before when I was reading it through the somewhat foreign lens of a setting many years ago. Thanks for helping me see it in a new light!

  6. I find myself agreeing as well, and I still have a year and a half left! It’s fascinating to look back at freshman year and see how time has completely flown by. And then, in context of the whole, “it’s who you know” phrase used in society fulfills it. Because of how the narrator gains friends as she is immersed in the world Jewitt has created, just as we as students experience the same thing that makes it harder to leave in the end.

  7. I too am a Graduating badger this May, and I too have had thoughts similar to the ones expressed so far. But, I can also say that the progress I see looking back excites me. Since coming to Madison so many things have changed. I am a different person, high rises have been built every year, and the University has expanded. Recently, I went back to the Lakeshore dorms, where I spent my Freshman year. I was shocked by the vast amount of changes that have taken place there since my stay only two short years before. It reminds me that regardless of how comfortable or accustomed to a place or circumstance one is, things are always changing and we need to change with it. While I think there is certainly a place for nostalgia of the ways things were or the way things are, I think it is equally important to keep in mind the ever present change that life entails and not too get caught up in beginnings and ends. That is something Jewett represents in “The Country of the Pointed Firs” with the character of Captain Littlepage. He is unable to move from his past and enjoy the present, whereas Mrs. Todd and the narrator do and are happier for it.

  8. I see the comparison to college life in the text perfectly. My dad always says to me: “College life is a breeze! You get to sleep in if you’re lucky, you can celebrate every weekend, you get to live with your friends, and your job is to get good grades and find out who you are.” In this sense, my experience at UW does seem akin to “a woman taking a summer stay in a new place,” like you said. When I arrived here, I had no idea what I would major in, what organizations I’d be a part of, or what person I would become. That’s what college is for – finding out who you are and who you want to be (also for obtaining a job in the future but that’s the more pragmatic understanding).

    The most familiar parallel for me between this text and my own life the narrator describing her unfamiliarity with Dunnet Landing at her arrival and how she had become so familiar with it by the time she had to go. This resonates with me so well because I’m graduating in two weeks. Like many of you I’m sure, when I arrived here, I knew a couple people from my high school that came as well, but I basically had to make all new friends. My friends became my roommates, and they’re like family to me. Accepting the fact that I’m graduating and moving away hasn’t gotten easier; the date has merely crept up sooner and sooner. The transition period that awaits between undergraduate life and a professional life seems frightening because it’s such a big change. Like Mrs. Todd and the narrator, however, I plan to greet this new stage in my life with openness. As Steele said, all things must come to an end. I’m just grateful to have had such a wonderful experience here at UW.

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