“A Widow in the Wilderness” by Annie Howells Fréchette

05Mar05

I’ve read this story four times and I don’t like the conclusions that I have made. This story seems to suggest that women cannot survive in the wilderness by themselves and that Indians are stubborn and stupid. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Fréchette is trying to indicate that men underestimate women’s abilities.

However, the portrait she paints of the widow and her children intimates that the men’s suggestions that she rejoin her people are not unwise: “The nursing baby turned its head from the brown breast and looked up with listless eyes which seemed to fill the wan little face”; “As they neared the widow’s camp they could see her fishing, with her gaunt children crouched about her in an old canoe” And the comment that “The sick baby had sunk to sleep, and was drawing the long, peaceful breaths of that perfect rest which a weak creature enjoys when held in strong arms” indicates that the man holding the baby has a strength that the mother, who held it only moments before, does not.

There is a something of a switch in typical gender roles in this story. Besides an allusion to breastfeeding, the widow does not display very stereotypical feminine qualities. She is quite stolid and unemotional, while the men seem more nurturing. Upon seeing the baby, the man feels compelled to take the child in his arms. And the exploring party donates supplies to the widow with “willing hands and aching hearts.”

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