Study Guide

A Northern Light What's Up With the Ending?

By Jennifer Donnelly

What's Up With the Ending?

I look around myself wildly, my heart bursting with grief and fear and joy. I am leaving, but I will take this place and its stories with me wherever I go.

I reach for his hand and clasp it. He hoists me onto the 10:15 southbound. To Utica and Herkimer. And all points south. To Amsterdam and Albany and beyond. To New York City. To my future. My life. (49.63-64)

Mattie's ending is kind of climactic… but it's also kind of anticlimactic, since Mattie has already made her decision to leave Eagle Bay for college in New York City. The act of leaving, however, also causes Mattie to resolve two conflicting strains of thought within her, which is arguably more meaningful than her decision to leave. Mattie has finally accepted that she will always be tethered to home and family despite her distance from it, and embraced that this means she is free to roam for a bit.

There's courage in Mattie's decision to leave everything she's ever known, a courage she's wanted to find throughout the novel but only grasps at the end. There is also something profoundly different between deciding to do something and actually doing it. Because Mattie is such a pensive and internal character, her actions mean kind of a lot throughout the novel, and it's no accident that the last action she takes is to board a train for a new destination, both literally and figuratively.

It's kind of a strange last paragraph, though, when we think about the style of the novel and how articulate Mattie is. Instead of saying something flowery and philosophical, Mattie lists the places the train will stop at, including her final destination of the Big Apple. We wonder at this until she mentions her future and life, and we realize that these stops are simply representing real and psychological distances she needs to travel to achieve what she desires in her life.

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