Study Guide

A Northern Light Literature and Writing

By Jennifer Donnelly

Literature and Writing

Books, books, and more books. In A Northern Light, Mattie is obsessed to distraction with books and literature and authors and writing. In fact, it's one of the major ways that she tries to make sense of the world in which she lives. Only Weaver understands literature's magnetic pull on Mattie; the other people in her community and even her family look down on Mattie for holding books and writing in such high regard, which definitely causes some serious complications, especially with Pa and Royal.

Over the course of the novel, Mattie realizes the limitations of the literature she reads and the lack of connection between the stories found in books and her personal story. Her life is not like Austen or Alcott's characters, and Mattie slowly becomes dissatisfied with the lack of realism in much of the literature she reads. Add her aspirations to become a writer into the mix, and literature is definitely at the heart of this one.

Questions About Literature and Writing

  1. What does Mattie think that literature can and can't do, and how does her opinion shift throughout the course of the novel?
  2. Why might Donnelly have chosen to make books such a central part of Mattie's life and in how Mattie understands the world and people around her?
  3. How do people who are important to Mattie view her connection with books and literature and writing, and how do their opinions affect her?
  4. How is Mattie's view of literature different from Weaver's view? Why might this be the case?

Chew on This

Mattie's thirst for words is a thirst for power; after all, she thinks words are intensely powerful.

Mattie believes that writers are obligated to tell the truth of life and is disappointed when they don't.