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January 28, 2012

The Wives of the Dead by Nathaniel Hawthorne- Summary

The Wives of the Dead by Nathaniel Hawthorne- Summary

About a hundred years ago, in the Bay Province it was autumn and two young women were grieving the loss of their husbands. They sat in their parlor, which was on the second floor of a small house. The parlor was plainly furnished and only had a few knickknacks from India. These two women sat in front of the fireplace mulling over their recent loses.

They had only recently married brothers, one was a sailor and the other was a landsman. Both had died within a couple of days of each other. One died in the Atlantic sea and the other in Canadian warfare.

Many came to see these two grieving widows, but they just wanted to be left alone. They believed that they could only find comfort with each other. Finally, everyone went home and they were left by themselves. After about an hour of sobbing, Mary decided that she couldn't cry any more (her husband had been the first to die). She fixed dinner and begged her companion, Margaret, to eat. Margaret was outraged by Mary's invitation and began crying more heavily than before. After a while Mary was able to calm her down.

The brothers, not having a lot of money, lived together in one house. When they got married they still continued to live together with their new brides.

Later that night the widows went to their rooms, leaving their doors open as a way to stay connected with each other. Mary temporarily forgot her grief and fell asleep. Margaret became more and more feverish as the night progressed. She was not able to sleep and at one point during the night she raised her head so that she could look into Mary's room. The lamps made shadows of the furniture in the room on the wall.

Two arm chairs were in front of the hearth on opposite ends; this is where the brothers used to sit, laughing together. The "true thrones of that little empire" were near the arm chairs and belonged to Mary and Margaret (64). Margaret's thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the front door. She decided not to answer it. Still, she waited for another knock. The knocking continued and words followed. Margaret got out of bed, picked up a lamp, and looked out of the window that was over the front door. It was the local innkeeper, Goodman Parker, knocking at the door. She asked him what he wanted.

Goodman Parker said: a man came in about a half an hour ago with a letter from the governor. I asked him what news he had and he said that the thirteen men reported dead were actually alive. I wanted to tell you because your husband was one of them.

Goodman Parker left and Margaret stayed there at the window a moment, joy rushing over her. Excitedly she went to Mary's room, but stopped at the door with a pain in her heart remembering that Mary would be even more grieved at the news because it would remind her of her own sorrow. She decided to wait until tomorrow to tell Mary and she went to bed and fell asleep.

Later that night, Mary awoke with a start. She heard a knock on the front door. She got up and went to the window, which was unhinged. She asked who was there. A man dressed in a sailor's uniform stepped out of the darkness and she immediately recognized him as Stephen, a man who had tried to woo her before she was married. She asked him why he had called on her so late.

He replied: I only got home about ten minutes ago and the first thing that my mom told me was that your husband was dead. I came right over here to comfort you.

This made Mary angry and she was about to shut the window when he said that he had one more thing to tell her.

He said: I saw your husband only yesterday. He survived the wreck and he will be coming home tomorrow.

Mary was so excited. She went immediately to tell Margaret. She found Margaret's door shut. She opened the door and went in. Mary was just about to wake Margaret up when a thought occurred to her; if she woke her up Margaret would only be reminded of her misfortune.

Mary decided to rearrange Margaret's bed-clothes so that the cold air would not disturb her sleep. "But her hand trembled against Margaret's neck, a tear also fell upon her cheek, and she suddenly awoke" (68).


Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "The Wives of the Dead." The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. Ed. Joyce Carol Oates. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992. 63-68.