4 of 5 stars to Pembroke by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, a classic of American literature. I read this in college a few yeas ago and wrote a paper on the influence of religion on books. A snippet is pasted below.
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s Pembroke was written near the turn of the century and towards the end of the realistic period when naturalism came to light. The realistic qualities of the novel really worked together to show what life was like for the Puritans of the late nineteenth century. Pembroke revolved around the small town gossip of a few core families, particularly highlighting the strict religious aspects of life for most people. In fact, Freeman based the novel on her own home-life situation in many ways. Freeman took the Puritan’s tragic flaw of exerting a force beyond recognizable limits and used it to show the results of Puritanism gone wrong. However, the ending of the novel showed a sign that things were changing. Puritanism in society was coming to an end. One of the leading philosophies of Puritans at the time was that they believed that if one committed a sin, (s)he would face the wrath of God and be paid back (like an eye for an eye) with equal measure. In Pembroke, Barney was considered to have done wrong by Charlotte and her family, so he deserved to suffer. Towards the end of the book, Cephas, Charlotte’s father, learned that Barney had the “rheumatiz.” Cephas told his family that, “There ain’t no need of havin’ the rheumatiz, accordin’ to my way of thinking. . . If folks lived right they wouldn’t have it” (V, 245) Cephas was a strong Puritan believer who took his beliefs to such a high level that his actions made Charlotte’s fiancee, Barney, leave her never to return (until the very last minute). This was similar to the life of a Puritan in society during this time, which is why the novel was considered realistic. Through this, Freeman was saying that “there is some freeing up and changing. The wasted times are over.” Every character was explored deeply in the novel and it was almost as if someone was watching people play out there lives – “like looking at ants in an ant farm.” Pembroke showed what life was like in small town America including all the quirks of the people and all the details of a highly religious Puritan family. Freeman accurately showed America what America was doing, and how it was looked upon by the people. Her realistic views opened the eyes of the people and began a transition into the new century.
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