Study Guide

A Northern Light Chapter 3

By Jennifer Donnelly

Chapter 3

abecedarian

  • (FYI: We're still in the flashback from Chapter 2.)
  • Mattie and her best friend Weaver are picking fiddleheads (very young ferns) to sell to a chef at a hotel.
  • She asks Weaver to choose a word, and their friend Minnie, who is pregnant, grumbles in the background.
  • Weaver chooses the word iniquitous and he and Mattie pretend to duel, using their fingers as guns. They face off, and then as Minnie calls draw, the two friends shout synonyms at each other until Weaver wins. He sits down to read The Count of Monte CristoĀ aloud, and Mattie picks up his bucket to fill.
  • Mattie keeps picking fiddleheads, but then she gets lost in the story Weaver is reading. Weaver realizes she's not going to finish, so he stops to help her.
  • Mattie fills in Weaver's background for readers: Weaver is the only black boy in the area and is Mattie's best friend; though his parents and grandparents were born slaves, he is freeborn. Weaver's mom and Weaver moved to the area from Mississippi after Weaver's dad "was killed right in front of them by three white men for no other reason than not moving off the sidewalk when they passed" (3.abecedarian.51). Weaver's mom takes in washing, raises chickens, and makes as much money as she can so that Weaver can go to Columbia University in New York City.
  • After Miss Wilcox, their teacher, encouraged both Weaver and Mattie to apply to college, he won a scholarship and plans to study history and politics.
  • Weaver has said that freedom promises more than it actually gives; he knows that until black people can achieve equality in work, freedom of speech, and literature, they will never really be free.
  • Mattie gets scared for Weaver because of the ignorant people who live in the area and because Weaver doesn't bow to the white men whom he lives with.
  • Weaver tells Mattie that she should write with her words, not just collect them; Mattie snaps at him because her life doesn't seem like it would make a good story to her.
  • When Weaver asks if she's heard anything from New York, Mattie tries not to cry as she thinks about the work she has to do on the farm and for her family, along with her desire to write stories.
  • Weaver, ever perceptive, recognizes that it's not the work or time that stops Mattie from writing; it's a promise that she made to her mother before she died (3.abecedarian.80). He thinks that "God took her life, and she took yours" (3.abecedarian.83). Mattie starts to cry, and he apologizes, though all three friends know it's true.
  • Mattie thinks back to a few months ago, when Weaver took her composition book full of stories and poems and gave it to Miss Wilcox. Because Miss Parrish, her teacher before Miss Wilcox, had thought that her writing was too "morbid and dispiriting" (3.abecedarian.91), Mattie thought her writing wasn't good at all. So when Miss Wilcox told Mattie that she has a gift for writing, Mattie was surprised.
  • Now, while picking fiddleheads, Mattie realizes that because of Weaver and Miss Wilcox, she wants things "I have no business wanting, and what they call a gift seems to me more like a burden" (3.abecedarian.98).
  • Weaver asks Mattie's word of the day. It's abecedarian, which means someone who is a beginner or novice at something.
  • Weaver smiles and tells Mattie to draw for another word duel.

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