Study Guide

A Northern Light Marriage

By Jennifer Donnelly

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In Mattie's community, marriage is the only option for respectable young women, and because of this, marriage in A Northern Light is tangled up with ideas of freedom and confinement. After all, if there's only one option that doesn't equal social suicide, then it's hard to think of it as much of a choice.

But this doesn't mean marriage is presented in only one light. Nope—we get to see the whole spectrum, from the happiness Pa and Mamma shared, to the abusive dynamics between Miss Wilcox and her husband. No matter where we look, though, we get a sense that marriage sets limits—and when we do, we understand why Mattie's so wary of it.

Questions About Marriage

  1. Why doesn't Mattie believe she can be a mother and a writer at the same time? What makes you say this?
  2. What role does Mattie think that love plays in marriage? Use examples from her parents' marriage, her friend Minnie's marriage to Jim, and Frank and Ida Loomis's marriage to help you explain this.
  3. Whose marriage is the best in the novel by modern standards, and what characteristics make it this way? (You can say no one's marriage, but make sure you explain why.)
  4. How do Grace Brown's hopes for marriage influence Mattie's ultimate decision about her impending marriage to Royal?

Chew on This

Even though Royal may not love Mattie now, he would grow to love her in time, and that's enough of a basis for a good marriage.

A Northern Light argues that marriage is not conducive to individual growth and development.

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