Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Miller, James M. (Professor of English)

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of English


Jewett; Sarah Orne; 1849-1909. Country of the pointed firs; Chopin; Kate; 1851-1904. Awakening; Wharton; Edith; 1862-1937. Ethan Frome; American fiction--Women authors--History and criticism; Women in literature; Isolation (Philosophy) in literature


This thesis examines the effects of women’s culture on the theme of isolation in women’s writing produced at the turn of the century. The Country of the Pointed Firs, The Awakening, and Ethan Frome are indicative of the theme of isolation and alienation popular at that time. Furthermore, they demonstrate a change in women’s relationships that, in turn, affects plot. In Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs, the people of a small fishing village in eastern Maine are isolated from the rest of the country and the progress of the post-Civil War era. Yet, the remnants of a female culture still exist, and the women use that network of friendships to mitigate their loneliness. In The Awakening, Kate Chopin demonstrates a feeling of ambivalence toward women’s culture as Edna Pontellier seeks female friendships in Adele Ratignolle and Mademoiselle Reisz as a means of mitigating her feelings of isolation. Ultimately, however, she becomes further isolated, as she fails to identify with either of them. Edith Wharton’s negative attitude toward a female culture is demonstrated in Ethan Frome. Although Zenobia Frome and Mattie Silver live on a secluded rural farm in Massachusetts^they fail to develop any type of friendship that would serve to mitigate their circumstances. Rather, Zeena is hostile and Mattie is competitive for the affection of Zeena’s husband, Ethan. Surprisingly, Zeena is found taking care of Mattie after the sledding accident. While all three of these novels thematically illustrate isolation, they also demonstrate how female characters cope (or do not cope) with isolation through their relationships with other women. Thus, these novels demonstrate the cultural changes that took place during a turbulent time for American women.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [65]-67)


67 pages




Northern Illinois University

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