Even though A Northern Light takes place in a rural community, there's plenty of complex social pressures and drama. In a time filled with rigid gender and race expectations, and in a town filled with farmers of varying degrees of wealth and a few unflappable gossips, everyone seems to have an opinion, and there's a whole lot of pressure to conform. Add the fact that Grace and Chester come from different social classes, and it's safe to say that a whole lot of drama stems from society and class in this novel.
In other words, Mattie's definitely got her work cut out from her when it comes to cutting loose, and fully realizing herself in all her non-conformist glory. As she finds her way, keep an eye out for others who are on similar journeys (ahem, Weaver).
Questions About Society and Class
What sorts of opportunities does money give to Miss Wilcox, Mattie, Weaver, and Royal in the novel? What opportunities does the lack of money take away from these characters?
Consider the disparity in wealth between Grace Brown and Chester Gillette. Why might this be important in the novel?
Assume Donnelly is commenting on social pressures. What message is she trying to send to her readers, and what makes you think this?
What markers of society and class do you recognize in the novel that also might exist today, and how do characters both conform to these markers and reject them?
Chew on This
Mattie and Weaver reject their community and everything it stands for when they plan to leave to study in New York.
Money, more than anything else, is the key to power in this book.