Analysis Pages

Themes in The Old Nurse's Story

The Past Cannot Be Changed: The nurse gathers the children around her to teach them a lesson, though that’s not totally apparent at the story’s outset. What starts as a simple retelling of their mother’s childhood gradually reveals itself to be an instruction in morality, delivered in a spooky, shocking way: the past cannot be changed, only learned from. The nurse’s aim is to deliver this message in a way that is both memorable to the children and cautions against both emotional reaction and paralyzed inaction.

Themes Examples in The Old Nurse's Story:

The Old Nurse's Story

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"'Alas! alas! what is done in youth can never be undone in age! What is done in youth can never be undone in age!'..."   (The Old Nurse's Story)

The final sentence of the nurse’s story sums up the story’s moral: mistakes cannot be erased. Though Miss Grace regrets her actions, she cannot change them, and she is literally and figuratively haunted by them even to her death. The choice to end the story on this note reinforces the nurse’s telling this story to the children to instruct them on how to behave, having drawn them in with a dramatic ghost story. With the moral delivered, the story can end.

"but often when she came to those words, she would listen, and start up from her knees, and say, 'I hear my little girl plaining and crying very sad..."   (The Old Nurse's Story)

Notice that the prayer for someone who has done something unforgivable is never finished, suggesting that Miss Grace may never be forgiven for whatever crime she has committed.

"'Pride will have a fall;'..."   (The Old Nurse's Story)

This is a proverb, a short statement intended to instruct or advise. It comes from the biblical book of Proverbs (16:18). It means that someone who is overconfident in her abilities is likely to fail eventually, either due to inexperience or underestimation. Because both Maude and Grace are prideful, they will likely make mistakes during the story. Hester’s repeated use of proverbs also contributes to the instructional tone of the story.

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