Old Woman Magoun


Most people, when forced to give up the one thing they truly love, would rather see it be destroyed than in the hands of another person. In "Old Woman Magoun," by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, the old woman is in that position. She is burdened with relinquishing custody of her granddaughter, Lily, to the child?s father. Throughout the story, the old woman faces an inner struggle over caring for and, ultimately, losing her granddaughter. She deals with her struggle in a very realistic, human response.
Old Woman Magoun is a woman who refuses to be disobeyed or disagreed with. She has a peculiar command over all those in her company. "No one had dared openly gainsay the old woman" (Freeman, 362). The only person she cannot make "visibly cower" (361) is Nelson Barry, Lily?s father. He is the only one that shows any disregard towards the old woman. Old Woman Magoun and Nelson Barry never agree with each other in any way. The old woman has been especially cautious of Barry ever since her daughter died and she had to take care of Lily. After an undesired and unforeseen encounter between the girl and Barry, the old woman is informed that she must hand over the girl. Feeling helpless and having no control over the situation, she feels forced to make a major decision to prevent the young girl from, what she feels, would be a grave predicament.
Old Woman Magoun most likely feels responsible for Lily?s situation and her own daughter?s demise and has learned to fear men as a result of it. She fears the girl?s father because he represents the part of herself that she cannot control, Lily. She has no choice but to give up her granddaughter and she cannot bear to lose her to the man she despises, Nelson Barry. Facing the reality of losing Lily is more than the old woman is readily prepared for.
In many of her stories, Freeman "invests the women with power and yet simultaneously limits their power" (http://www.georgetown.edu/libraries/ 2). Old Woman Magoun has a mysterious command over people, but it doesn?t help her when it comes to keeping Lily. She still has to relinquish her control over the child and she has no power to change the circumstances. Freeman makes the old woman suffer the "realities of nineteenth-century New England" (2). These realities are that a woman must abide by her socially defined and accepted role and if she does not abide, she will suffer the consequences that result. These consequences are usually that of major change. Old Woman Magoun breaks the preconceived notion that woman?s role is to be submissive and therefore she is punished in an indirect fashion. She is expected to give the little girl to her father with little or no argument. She cannot perceive doing this because of her incredible love for the child.
Old Woman Magoun has to face an issue she hoped she would never have to deal with. Her response to her situation is a form of denial. The old woman understands that she will lose her granddaughter, one way or another, but she refuses to let the girl?s father have anything to do with her. The old woman is displaying a very basic human response, selfishness. She decides that if she can?t have Lily, no one else can either.
Old Woman Magoun murders her granddaughter because of her selfish human nature. Unfortunately, selfishness is a trait that people cannot dispose of. Society contributes to the self-related intentions of mankind. Old Woman Magoun expresses these traits in her motivations for killing Lily. Her selfishness causes her to make decisions that prevent her from ever seeing her granddaughter again and the emptiness that accompanies her loss causes her extreme suffering. Mary E. Wilkins Freeman wants her readers to understand that due to the society we live in, we are expected to conform and when we do not, we suffer the consequences. Old Woman Magoun willfully chooses to rebel against her role in society and she unintentionally punishes herself as a result of it.