Places: The Country of the Pointed Firs

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1896

Type of work: Novella

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Places DiscussedDunnet Landing

Dunnet Country of the Pointed Firs, TheLanding. Fictional Maine fishing village where the narrator boards with Mrs. Almira Todd and around which his story revolves. The tenacity of the coastline’s tall pines, spruces, and firs, often rooted in rocks, and the always-changing sea, providing bounty one day and tragedy the next, reflect the strength, integrity, and patience of Maine’s people, who make their homes on the rugged yet strikingly beautiful coastland. The sound of the sea is ever present throughout the narration. Visitors, including the narrator, are hospitably received and become privy to the islanders’ family histories, idiosyncrasies, joys, and sorrows. The fishermen from this village are strong, weather-beaten, for the most part silent on shore. Taciturn sea captains are often surprisingly well read. In wooden boats, these men have traveled around the Cape of Good Hope and battled the ferocious seas of Cape Horn. Their women are sociable, creative, and compassionate. They appreciate the wild roses and make use of the berries and herbs covering the mid-summer hillsides. Mrs. Todd, who includes her visitor in her summer activities, is a wonderful teller of tales, both real and embellished. Many of the wives living in small weather-beaten houses have traveled to distant ports with their seagoing husbands, bringing back exotic small souvenirs.

Green Island

Green Island. Outer Maine island accessible only by boat and the birthplace of Mrs. Todd and home of her mother, Mrs. Blackett. Mrs. Blackett lives in a house on the only level area of a large sloping green field, a steep climb from the sea where Mrs. Todd and her visitor land their dory. The small farm sits below dark spruce woods. The tops of these conifers are sharply outlined against a deep blue sky. Eastward, toward the ocean, a flock of gray sheep grazes among the sparse pasturage among the large gray rocks. The island is described as a “complete and tiny continent.” From the top, where the air is fresh with the fragrance of sea and scattered bayberry bushes, one can see the ocean surrounding the island. In the distance hundreds of other small islands and the far mainland appear. This island, in its silence and loneliness, contrasts with Dunnet Landing, the busy, noisy fishing village.

Shell-heap Island

Shell-heap Island. Small and lonely island, three miles from Green Island and eight miles from the mainland, that is difficult to visit because of strong winds and tricky tides. Even when the conditions are favorable, the island is a difficult place on which to land. Self-exiled Joanna Todd lives on this island, which takes its name from piles of shells left by earlier Indian residents. Other evidences of past Indian occupation include stone tools they have left behind.

Black Island

Black Island. Island closest to Shell-heap Island. Its residents often spy on the movements of Joanna Todd with a spyglass.


Fessendon. Town inland and a full day’s sail from Green Island. To reach Fessendon from Green Island, one has to go down the coast to Cold Spring Light and around a long point of land.

BibliographyBlanchard, Paula. Sarah Orne Jewett: Her World and Her Work. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1994. In this literary biography, Blanchard devotes one chapter to discussing the novella in the context of Jewett’s life and other works. Also provides photographs, relevant background and biographical information, and a bibliography.Cary, Richard, ed. Appreciation of Sarah Orne Jewett: Twenty-nine Essays. Waterville, Maine: Colby College Press, 1973. Six of the twenty-nine essays included in this collection deal specifically with The Country of the Pointed Firs. Looking at the novel from a historical and sociological perspective, Warner Berthoff argues in “The Art of Sarah Orne Jewett’s Pointed Firs” that the main story of the book is “the economic disintegration of the coastal towns, the withering away of the enterprise that gave them life.” In “An Interpretation of Pointed Firs,” Francis Fike looks at the major unifying themes of the book.Cary, Richard. Sarah Orne Jewett. New Haven, Conn.: College and University Press, 1962. The first part of the book contains a chronology of the major events in Jewett’s life and a brief biography. Cary provides a summary and evaluation of The Country of the Pointed Firs.Cather, Willa. Preface to The Best Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett. 1925. Reprint. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1965. Cather praises Jewett’s work for its ability to present sketches of character and scenes in such a way that “they are not stories at all, but life itself.”Cather, Willa. Not Under Forty. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936. In the chapter on Jewett, Cather discusses the design and beauty of the novel: “The Pointed Firs sketches are living things caught in the open, with light and freedom and airspaces about them. They melt into the land and the life of the land . . .”Donovan, Josephine. New England Local Color Tradition. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1983. Donovan argues that Jewett was more than simply a local color writer, that she provided examples of strong, independent women and, in doing so, offers a glimpse of what life was like for nineteenth century women.Donovan, Josephine. Sarah Orne Jewett. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980. Includes a biographical sketch followed by a discussion of Jewett’s artistic principles and main themes. One chapter discusses the novella as a realization of Jewett’s themes and purposes. Also includes bibliography.Nagel, Gwen L., ed. Critical Essays on Sarah Orne Jewett. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1984. The introduction to this collection summarizes critical response to all of Jewett’s works. Contains contemporary reviews and several more recent critical essays on the novella and the other Dunnet Landing stories.Roman, Margaret. Sarah Orne Jewett: Reconstructing Gender. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1992. Examines the attitudes toward gender in Jewett’s fiction. One chapter shows how the novella reflects Jewett’s mature ideas about gender identity. Includes bibliography.Sherman, Sarah Way. Sarah Orne Jewett: An American Persephone. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1989. Explores the extensive development and use of the myth of Persephone by Jewett and her contemporary writers. Much of the second half of the book shows how Jewett uses the myth in the novella. Includes bibliography.
Categories: Places