Study Guide

A Northern Light Chapter 22

By Jennifer Donnelly

Chapter 22

glean

  • The first week of May, Lou teases Mattie about Royal when Miss Wilcox comes driving down the road in an automobile, which is a novelty in the region.
  • When Miss Wilcox invites the girls for some lunch, Mattie reluctantly agrees while Lou jumps at the chance to ride in an automobile.
  • Although Miss Wilcox thinks that no one cares what anyone does in the region, Mattie knows the truth of the rumor mill within her community. In fact, Mattie's word of the day is glean, and she uses it to describe the gossips (like Aunt Josie) who search for bits of information.
  • Miss Wilcox leads the girls into the house she's renting and makes them sandwiches; Mattie and Lou realize that the house is quiet because it's just Miss Wilcox who lives there.
  • When asked, Miss Wilcox says she likes living alone because of the quiet, but Lou thinks it would be lonely.
  • Miss Wilcox suggests they all eat in the library, and Mattie walks into a room with hundreds of books; she nearly faints with greed.
  • Lou tells Miss Wilcox that Mattie and Royal are dating, and Mattie says that Jane Austen sort of ruins girls for common folk.
  • When Miss Wilcox asks what Mattie thinks of Austen, Mattie says that Austen lies and goes on to explain there are two types of books: those that show happy endings, and those that shake their readers' thoughts and beliefs.
  • Mattie makes an argument that happy endings don't really exist, but there are plenty of flawed antiheroes in the world; if anything, characters in books are heroic, but people for the most part are not. And Mattie wants literature to have a little more truth to it.
  • After Mattie's passionate speech, Miss Wilcox tells her to make readers care about the truth of life and gives her two books: Therese Raquin and Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Then she warns Mattie not to tell anyone she has them because books can be more dangerous than guns.
  • Finally, Miss Wilcox asks Mattie to come and organize her books for a small wage.
  • Mattie thinks of everything telling her not to—Royal, Pa, Aunt Josie, her promise to her mother—and refuses. But Lou offers to do work with her sisters to free Mattie's time to work for Miss Wilcox, and when Miss Wilcox offers Mattie the chance to borrow whatever book she wants to, Mattie agrees.

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