Study Guide

A Northern Light Chapter 16

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Chapter 16


  • Rewinding back to spring, Beth yells to Pa that there's a monster in the manure pile, but when the family goes to investigate, they find out that it's just Uncle Fifty, Pa's younger brother, recovering from a night of drinking.
  • Pa tells Mattie to give Uncle Fifty a bath, but this will make Mattie late for school—and today's the day Miss Wilcox is giving the last bit of the tests Mattie has to take to get her diploma.
  • In the end, Mattie arrives at school two hours late but is able to finish all her exams. You go, girl.
  • When Mattie gets home, she finds Uncle Fifty has cooked dinner and is entertaining the family. He proposes a toast to Mattie for her accomplishment of getting a diploma, and Mattie takes her first drink of whiskey.
  • Uncle Fifty has cooked them all supper, and the family—even Pa—has a good laugh when they admit that Mattie is an awful cook. After dinner, Uncle Fifty tells stories of his job on the river.
  • When Uncle Fifty talks about logging, Mattie can tell that her pa misses being out on the river.
  • Then Mattie recalls a little of her father's history: his stepfather beat him with his belt whenever Pa spoke French and, really, whenever he felt like it, so Pa ran away from home when he was twelve.
  • Before going to bed, Uncle Fifty gives everyone the gifts he brought.
  • As Mattie gets ready for bed, she eavesdrops on the conversation between Uncle Fifty and Pa; Uncle Fifty tells Pa he should get back on the river, but Pa says he likes farming.
  • Mattie remembers a huge fight her parents had about ten years earlier. Pa was almost killed on the river, and Mamma made Pa promise not to work the logjams, and instead to just stay on the shore. In the course of the fight, it came out that Pa and Mamma ran away to be together, and that Pa was still angry with Mamma's father; Mamma, who wouldn't hurt a fly, slapped Pa hard and went to stay at Aunt Josie's with her children. When the two reconciled a few weeks later, Pa sold Mamma's jewelry to pay for land on Eagle Bay and made the transition from river work to farming.
  • Perceptively, Uncle Fifty recognizes that Pa still grieves for his dead wife so much that he isn't really living, and when he asks Pa about Lawton, Pa doesn't answer. Uncle Fifty tells Pa to pay attention to his family, but Pa brushes him off.
  • When Mattie brings the logs in for the fire, Uncle Fifty tells her that he's proud of her, but she wishes it were her Pa speaking. Then, Uncle Fifty offers to help her pay for the train ticket and other expenses so she can go to college, but Mattie thinks that he doesn't have the money.
  • As she climbs the stairs to bed, Mattie hears Pa and Uncle Fifty talking about money, and it turns out Uncle Fifty really does have the money.
  • Mattie's so excited that she can barely sleep, though she hasn't told anyone in her family about her opportunity to go to college yet.
  • Because it's too late to look up a word, Mattie makes one up: recouriumphoration, or "to have one's hope restored" (16.recouriumphoration.127).

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