Although a prolific and popular writer in her day, Mary Wilkins Freeman has only recently been rediscovered and reevaluated as a realistic recorder of the status and sensibility of the New England woman in the early years of this century.
Women form the backbone of her stories. Within a framework tightly controlled by patriarchal and religious tradition, Freeman's women strive for an understanding of the roles assigned to them. Through their relationships and responses, they test the limits of their freedom and learn the moral and personal consequences of rejecting or acquiescing to the roles the larger community has imposed on them.
The rebellious woman became a key these in Freeman's stories and a major image in her gallery of fictional portraits of women. A Web of Relationship reveals how she sharply delineates the lives and personalities of women who accept of reject the ideal Victorian code of "true womanhood" as mother and wife. This study of Freeman's stories throws light upon the other women her rich fictional narratives portray--women who are rejected by men and who feel their lives are thus worthless and their futures bleak; women frustrated yet submissive to the confines of marriage; women whose sole means of solidarity with other women is through self-aggrandizing gossip; women who must deal with day with the twin hardships of advancing age and poverty.
Freeman's unifying theme is the web of relationships connecting every type of New England woman struggling towards selfhood despite straitened circumstances and repression by family and community. Freeman's collective portraits of New England women not only give insight into her art but also reveal her penetrating vision of women frustrated by the confusing and confining roles forced upon them in this time and place.