Analysis of “The Revolt of ‘Mother’” “The Revolt of ‘Mother’” by Mary Wilkins Freeman, was a story of a woman who lived in New England around or before the author’s time. The mother, Sarah Penn, was kept out of the families decisions by the father, Adoniram Penn, until one event that lead to her taking drastic actions while her husband was gone. There are many religious symbols and actions taken by “Mother” within the story. Through the story Sarah moved from a feeling of servitude to her husband, to a feeling that she was in servitude to the Lords will and this led her, in the end, to hold power over her husband.
The religious overtones start with the title of the story, “The Revolt of ‘Mother.’” The name ‘Mother’ in many stories is used to relate to a divine or spiritual woman. It could be a direct reference to Mother Mary, but in the context of this story it is just meant to signify her clarity with what the Lord wants her to do. The word ‘Revolt’ also has religious significance when related with that use of ‘Mother’. The revolt that ‘Mother’ takes is a religious one because it is going against her husband and town’s beliefs, which are both the same. This becomes clear in the part of the story when the minister comes to talk to Sarah about what she has done.
When the minister came to see Sarah on Friday after she had moved into the barn she was described as having a “saintly expression of her face”(529). With that, and the fact that she acts so rude to him, especially since he’s a minister, shows that she does believe she is right under the Lords will and he is not. The author also implies this by the name she gives to the minister, Mr. Hersey. His name sounds just like the word heresy and is spelled very similar. This is another indication that, in fact, the minister is going against the Lords own will and Sarah is not. The narrator has also described the minister as being “ a sickly man” and that, “he had scourge himself up to some of his pastoral duties as relentlessly as a Catholic ascetic”(530). This seems harsh at first but it is just conveying the ignorance of the minister. In the times of this story the town would have to be Protestant or maybe even Puritan, but definitely not Catholic because it is set in early New England times and for the simple fact that he is a minister with a wife. The fact that he is referred to as a “Catholic ascetic”(530) shows that he is not believer in the scriptures as the Protestants are, but a conformist to the Catholic Church and not an interpreter of the Lords will. Sarah, on the other hand, is an interpreter of the Lords will.
Sarah comes to the conclusion that she is doing the Lords will when she declared the new maxim for her self. She now believed that “Unsolicited opportunities are the guideposts of the Lord to the new roads of life”(528). She knows that this is an unsolicited opportunity because she had nothing to do with Hiram sending notice of a good horse to father. It is also known that Sarah believes she is doing by the Lords will because it is a providence to her; which is taken as her having divine foresight. This foresight comes from her being a new spirit.
The sense that she is a new spirit is implied when she states, “I’ve let the fire go out”(528). Even though she is talking about the stove, it is taken that it is a fire inside of her. The fire, which is a means of destruction and chaos, was burning up her soul. And now that it was out a new spirit could take over. The new spirit is also seen by Nanny when she “tremble(s), as if it were a ghost”(528). This ghost that she feels is representative of the new spirit that has embodied mother. Because of this new feeling both Sammy and Nanny seem to become something of religious followers to her.
The children as religious followers to Sarah are first clearly seen through the observation that “There is a certain uncanny and superhuman quality about such a purely original undertakings as their mother’s was to them”(529). The superhuman quality is the divine foresight that mother has. And because of this divine sense the children become her followers. Also the part where “Nanny and Sammy kept close to her heels”(530) is a direct indication that they are following and doing what she says. This may seem like gibberish and impertinent to the thesis, except for the fact that in order for mother to move from a servitude to the father, to that of the Lords will she needs to have followers. She needs them in order to verify what she is doing is right. It is clearly seen through the way the Adoniram talks and dismisses Sarah in the beginning of the story that she is submissive to him and has no power in the family. But in the end without the children’s conforming to what mother is doing, she would have never had the power to move their belongings to the new barn. Even though at first the points of the children may have seemed to be an aspect which was a side bar to the thesis, it is in fact the main reason mother was able to start the revolt.
By the end of the story Adoniram is not in power. This aspect is shown through how Father lacked the power to even remove his jacket, even though he is described as having a “sturdily healthy”(531) frame. He is also not referred to as father, but as an old man. Because old people are usually represented as being weaker and more needing of help, Father takes on the position of lesser power in the family. So because Sarah moved from Adoniram’s servitude to the Lords, father falls to a lesser power. It is in this position that he gives into his wife and builds windows and partitions as she asks.
In the end Sarah has moved from servitude to a position of power in the family. And Adoniram has fallen from his position of not listening to what Sarah wants to one of submission to her needs. But there hasn’t been sufficient foundation laid by Sarah to foreshadow that it will stay this way forever. First because the majority of the revolt took place when Adoniram was absent, so it was easier for her to make this transition. But mainly because as the name implies this was only a revolt. Just because you won a revolt doesn’t mean you’ve won the war.