Study Guide

A Northern Light Chapter 1

By Jennifer Donnelly

Chapter 1

  • It is a perfect day. Mattie (our narrator) stands on the porch of the Glenmore Hotel, perched on the shore of Big Moose Lake, on Thursday, July 12, 1906; she takes in the beauty. (Yes, these details are all important.)
  • Ada Bouchard, another worker at the hotel, comes out of the hotel and asks if they're dragging the lake to find the boat Zilpha.
  • Mattie loves words and searches for one that describes a life-changing event, because she senses one is coming.
  • Cook runs up from the dock, and meets a man who carries a young woman limp in his arms.
  • Shocked, Mattie and Ada do nothing to help until Cook tells them to hop to it, but as Cook places the girl on the bed, she tells Mattie and Ada that it's too late: the rescued girl is dead.
  • Mattie thinks that she saw the girl yesterday and that it looked like she didn't have much money.
  • Cook tries to find out what happened to the man with the girl, Carl Grahm, but no one knows; hotel workers make arrangements to tell the girl's family.
  • Mr. Morrison, the hotel manager, recalls that he asked Carl Grahm if he could handle a boat, and the gentleman said yes.
  • As the commotion builds, Mattie can only close her eyes and see the letters that she promised to burn.
  • When the people mention Carl Grahm once more, Mattie corrects and tells them that his real name is Chester Gillette; asked how she knows this, she lies and says she overheard it.
  • As people focus on Mattie, she muses, "knowledge carries a damned high price" (1.37).

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