Study Guide

A Northern Light Chapter 33

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Chapter 33


  • On a May afternoon, as Royal drives Mattie to her friend Minnie's and talks a blue streak, Mattie thinks of Emily Dickinson's poetry and how its syntax is far more interesting than Royal.
  • Emily's life angers Mattie, who wonders why she was a recluse and thinks that her life must have been lonely.
  • As Royal jabbers on, Mattie thinks that the women authors she has read have all been either single or in disastrous marriages, including Miss Wilcox.
  • Once they arrive at Minnie's, Mattie tells Royal not to forget about her. He says he won't, and Mattie has some serious doubts: she doesn't quite believe that Royal is interested in her and worries that it's all a dream.
  • Walking up to Minnie's, Mattie sees a gravid (her word of the day, meaning pregnant) cow and realizes that she has so much to tell Minnie: Barnard, the Glenmore, Miss Wilcox's library, Royal.
  • But when Mattie walks in the house, Minnie is nursing the twins, and the house is in disarray and filthy, smelling of old food and strewn with dirty pots and plates.
  • Minnie hands the twins to Mattie while she tries to get up to make a cup of tea, but the twins start screaming, and Minnie does too.
  • Surprised, Mattie hands the twins back, and Minnie accuses her of hating the babies… and then admits that she, their mother, sometimes hates them too. In fact, Minnie says she wishes she'd never gotten married or had children. She says Jim keeps wanting to have sex, but she hurts from giving birth and she's not ready for another child.
  • Mattie makes the tea and cleans Minnie's house for her while the new mother sleeps, and the time passes too quickly.
  • As Mattie walks to meet Royal, she realizes that Emily Dickinson may have been freer than she originally thought; had she been married, she never would have written poetry.
  • Mattie is torn: She doesn't want to be lonely, but she also doesn't want to give up language and words. And she resents that the male authors she's read never have to make a choice between family and their dreams as writers.
  • But as she and Royal drive away and talk about the future, Mattie thinks that nothing else but their life together matters.

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