Study Guide

A Northern Light Chapter 6

By Jennifer Donnelly

Chapter 6

somniferous

  • Still in the flashback at the beginning of April, Mattie is at school listening to Miss Wilcox lecture about Milton and Shakespeare and John Donne.
  • Even though Mattie is technically too old for the school, Miss Wilcox encourages her and Weaver to stay because they are smart enough to earn high school diplomas. Miss Wilcox came to Mattie's house the previous November to talk with Mattie's parents about Mattie's scholastic promise; even though Pa said that Mattie should leave school, Mamma said that she was going to get her diploma. So Mattie and Weaver spent most of the year preparing to take the exit exams in multiple subjects.
  • But now, at the beginning of April, Mattie wonders if she'll ever get a letter saying she earned her diploma.
  • Mattie considers how her word of the day—somniferous, which means sleep inducing—accurately describes Paradise Lost. She's fed up with the length of the book, thinks John Milton is a trial, and wonders why it's "always other places and other lives that mattered" (6.somniferous.9). In fact, the people from her area interest her more than the people in the books she reads.
  • But Miss Wilcox seems to understand Mattie's struggles and reminds the class that they read the classics in order to understand the progression of literary works.
  • After class, Miss Wilcox asks Mattie to stay after and hands her a letter. Mattie opens it to find that she has been accepted to Barnard College with a full tuition scholarship for her first year (and potentially for the rest of the years depending on GPA and conduct), so long as she completes her high school diploma first.
  • Mattie reads this silently and thinks to herself that the college wants her and that she is smart, even if she's not great at farming.
  • But as Miss Wilcox talks about the opportunity, Mattie realizes that her father will never let her go: She has no money and no way to get money, plus she made a promise to her mother (though we don't know what this promise is yet).
  • Miss Wilcox sees Mattie's sorrow and asks if she's working at the Glenmore Hotel, but Mattie says her father refuses to let her. So Miss Wilcox offers Mattie a lifeline: Her sister lives in New York, and Mattie can stay with her while attending Barnard College.
  • Under questioning, Mattie admits that she hasn't even told her father that she's applied to college because she's afraid of how he'll react; when Miss Wilcox offers to do so for her, Mattie warns her not to.

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