Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

A Mother In Mannville

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A Mother In Mannville Summary

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Bestselling Floridian author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953) published the short story “A Mother in Mannville” in 1936. It was included in the 1947 collection Mountain Prelude. The short story is about a young, orphaned boy bonding with an older female writer. Many consider it one Rawlings’s most autobiographical works. Rawlings is best known for her Pulitzer-prize winning novel The Yearling (1939). Themes include human isolation, integrity, and guilt.

The story is told in the first person, present tense. The narrator, who is a female author, describes the “baby” cottage she plans to write in for a season, as well as the orphanage in the town further down the mountain. The orphanage is for boys; compounding their misfortune, the orphanage is located toward the bottom of a chilly valley with low visibility due to fog.

The narrative is told in medias res (it begins in the middle of the story). By the second paragraph, Jerry – a 12-year-old orphan boy who helps the narrator with household chores – is already speaking to the author in familiar tones. The narrator quickly describes how they met and why she kept him around: it was cold, she needed someone to help chop firewood, and Jerry volunteered.

The narrator is reluctant at first to keep Jerry employed—he’s small in stature, and she doesn’t believe he would chop wood as well as an older man. To her great surprise, Jerry chops the wood very cleanly; he’s a professional at twelve. Having proven himself, the narrator looks at him in earnest. She’s impressed with his direct gaze and grey-blue eyes. To her, they hint of independence and integrity. She learns that he has been at the orphanage since he was four, or so he claims.

The narrator grows closer to him as she witnesses how honest Jerry is. When the ax breaks as he’s chopping wood, he says he’ll pay for the repair until the narrator insists that she will pay. She watches as Jerry and Pat, her Pointer dog, bond. They get along so well the narrator lets Jerry take care of Pat when she has to drive across the state for the weekend. He takes good care of the dog and worries about the narrator when she’s delayed by heavy fog.

When she arrives home, they talk about Jerry’s time watching Pat. It’s clear that he has bonded with the Pointer and is comfortable hanging out with her; in a mysterious way, the narrator imagines that Jerry feels as though he’s part of a family. Jerry tells her about the good time he had hunting with Pat.

While warming himself near the fire, Jerry confesses that he has a mother in Mannville. This shocks the narrator—if this is true, why is he living in an orphanage? She doesn’t blame Jerry at all for his condition, but she does feel an intense anger toward his mother. As they talk, Jerry tells her that his mother occasionally sends him gifts, such as roller skates and Christmas suits. The narrator is intensely curious about this odd relationship between Jerry and his mother.

Jerry says he would like to use the dollar she gave him for watching Pat to buy his mother white gloves. The narrator thinks she’ll have to meet his mother in person before she leaves the baby cottage to really understand what’s going on between Jerry and his mother. The narrator becomes so caught up with her work, she forgets to ask the orphanage about Jerry’s mother or to strike out on her own to find her. She reasons that Jerry isn’t that lonely—he has many friends at the orphanage—and if his mother is in the nearby town of Mannville, then he isn’t as alone as she once believed.

Jerry and the narrator continue their cordial relationship and don’t bring up Jerry’s mother again. When the narrator’s time at the cottage is up, she informs Jerry that she will be leaving the next day. He responds with silence. He doesn’t return to the baby cottage to see her off, and she is too busy with gathering all of her possessions and planning future trips to notice his absence.

The narrator returns the keys to the cabin at the orphanage. She remembers to inquire about Jerry. The orphanage administrator, Miss Clark, tells her that she doesn’t know where Jerry is. He missed dinner and didn’t complete his daily chores, which is very out of character for him. The narrator admits to feeling relieved that Jerry is absent. She is in a rush; with him not here, she won’t be bogged down by any emotional goodbyes. She tells Miss Clark that she’d like to leave some money with the orphanage for some Christmas gifts for him. Normally she would buy a gift, but she doesn’t want to overlap with the gifts his mother sends him. The narrator receives her second major shock of the story: Miss Clark tells her that Jerry doesn’t have a mother.