Mary Wilkins Freeman

The Revolt Of Mother

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The Revolt Of Mother Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 29-page guide for the short story “The Revolt Of Mother” by Mary Wilkins Freeman includes detailed a summary and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 15 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Rebellion and Self-Assertion and The Rebalance of Power Between Genders.

This short story by American author Mary E. Wilkins Freeman was first published in 1890. Considered by many to be a pre-feminist work, “The Revolt of ‘Mother’” addresses themes of domestic rebellion, self-assertion, the repression of women, and tradition in a male-dominated society. The narrative is often said to be autobiographic, and it shows Freeman’s complex attitudes about male and female relationships at the time it was written.

The story beings as protagonist Sarah Penn, also known as “Mother,” calls to her husband Adoniram Penn (“Father”) when she sees men digging in one of their fields. The men are digging where Adoniram promised Sarah he would build them a new house. She wants to know why they are digging and is persistent despite her husband’s reluctance to answer the question. He finally admits that they are creating a cellar for a new barn.

At the house, Sarah’s daughter Nanny asks if Adoniram told her why they are digging, and Sarah tells her. Sarah asks Sammy, her son, if he knew that Father was going to build a new barn, and Sammy says he has known for three months.

Nanny expresses distress at the idea of a new barn and Sarah continues to question Sammy. She wants to know if Adoniram intends to buy new cows. Sammy tells her he thinks Adoniram wants four more, then he heads off for school.

Nanny and Sarah wash the dishes and talk about the new development. Nanny questions her father’s decision, given that they need a decent house to live in and a good place for her fiancé, George Eastman, to court her. But Sarah reminds her of their place in the household: “‘You ‘ain’t found out yet we’re women-folks, Nanny Penn’” (45). Neither one wants to complain—after all, they have a comfortable home with a good roof, and they are lucky. Sarah says, “‘Lots of girls have to that ain’t no stronger an’ better able to than you be.’” (51)

After washing, Sarah begins making pies and Nanny sews. However, Sarah can see the men digging as she glances up from her work: “the sight that rankled in her patient and steadfast soul—the digging of the cellar of the new barn in the place where Adoniram forty years ago had promised her their new house should stand.” (55)

Adoniram and Sammy come home for dinner, eat, and leave. Sammy goes back to school because he does not want to do chores, and Adoniram calls after him in vain for help unloading wood from the wagon. Nanny goes to the store to buy embroidery and thread, and Sarah calls Adoniram to talk to her. He says he is busy, but she insists that he come into the kitchen.

Sarah asks him why he thinks he needs another barn. She says she is going to “‘talk real plain to ” (75) for the first time in their marriage. She brings his attention to their house’s deficiencies, pointing out how their daughter will get married in one of the rundown rooms. She points how the bedroom, pantry, and unfinished chambers where their children sleep need updating. And she says, “‘I want to know if you think you’re doin’ right an’ accordin’ to what you profess’” (79).

Adoniram replies that he has nothing to say. Sarah continues, saying she has never complained, but Nanny, who has always been a weak, sickly girl, cannot live with them if they do not have another house. She asks Adoniram to reconsider, but he tells her needs to go back to work.

When Nanny comes home, she says she would be ashamed to have the wedding in the house. Irritable, she says, “‘We might have the weddin’ in the new barn’” (92)—a comment that shocks Sarah.

The new barn grows during the spring, admired by fellow…

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