Study Guide

A Northern Light Chapter 23

By Jennifer Donnelly

Chapter 23

dehiscence

  • Later in May, Mattie stands in the kitchen after a long day and watches her family finishing up chores, feeling like she's in a prison.
  • She considers her word of the day—dehiscence, meaning when pods break open to release their seeds—and thinks that she can't find words to talk to her family.
  • Mattie lies to get out of the house and rushes to her mother's grave. She's been reading so many books from Miss Wilcox's library: Zola, Hardy, Whitman, Blake, and Baxter.
  • Mattie heard about the book A Distant Music by Emily Baxter from her Aunt Josie, whose newspapers had trashed the book and the author as being indecent, but when Mattie reads the book, she realizes that it's just poems about independent women, which inspire Mattie to question what she knows about women and the world.
  • Mattie considers the two worlds she's learning about: the one of her family and farming, and the one beyond her home of Eagle Bay.
  • After seeing her mother's headstone, Mattie remembers how her mother used to describe how she and her father met, fell in love, and ran away together. And Mattie remembers how her mother used to read to them all and sing while she cooked, focusing on just the good things and none of the bad that came with her cancer.
  • But Mattie can't hold the memories of the cancer back and the promise she made to Mamma to stay and take care of her sisters.
  • As Mattie turns to go back home, she stumbles over a young robin, the victim of a hawk attack.

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