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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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8. Regional Realism   

8. Regional

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Activities: Author Activities

Mary E. Wilkins Freeman - Teaching Tips

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  • While "The Revolt of 'Mother'" is one of Freeman's most frequently anthologized stories, she herself was dissatisfied with what she viewed as its lack of realism. In an autobiographical essay she explained, "in the first place all fiction ought to be true, and 'The Revolt of "Mother" ' is not in the least true.... There never was in New England a woman like Mother. If there had been she most certainly would not have moved into that palatial barn.... New England women of that period coincided with their husbands in thinking that sources of wealth should be better housed than consumers." After you give students this background information, ask them to think about Freeman's literary values: why does she insist that "all fiction ought to be true"? Given her conviction that the events in "The Revolt of 'Mother' " do not meet her realist standards, why did she plot the story around Mother's rebellion? You might ask students to outline what the plot would have looked like had Freeman characterized Mother as a more typical "New England woman of that period," and then have them share their outlines with the class.

  • Recently, scholars of lesbian studies have become interested in Freeman's work and career, examining her long and close relationship with her roommate, Mary Wales; her late and unsuccessful marriage; and her depictions of women who choose solitude or companionship with other women over relationships with men. While close female friendships had been socially acceptable in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, by the time Freeman wrote exclusive female relationships were undergoing redefinition. With the emergence of lesbian identity--and a new understanding of the sexual possibilities of same-sex relationships--close attachments between women were beginning to be portrayed as "unhealthy" or as a symptom of moral or biological degeneracy. Ask students to consider Freeman's portrayal of marriage and heterosexual romance in light of these issues. How does Freeman critique the power structure of heterosexual relationships? How radical is her position? What kinds of alternatives, if any, does she envision for characters involved in unsatisfying heterosexual unions?

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