Old Woman Magoun


Freeman, Mary E. Wilkins


Short Story


Mary E. Wilkins Freeman began writing in the 1880s. Much of her work concerns the daily realities of life in the provincial New England towns of that era. She is valued today for her insight into the psychological depths of her female characters. "Old Woman Magoun" is about a grandmother's care for her vulnerable and innocent granddaughter, Lily. She successfully protects Lily from her degenerate father until she reaches the age of fourteen, when a chance meeting forces Old Woman Magoun to make a terrible choice. The story raises questions about the dark side of caring for someone: what happens when we presume to know what is best for those in our care?

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American Gothic: An Anthology, 1787-1916, ed. Charles Crow (Blackwell Pub., 1999)




Justice and EqualityLove and CompassionMotives and ValuesServing and Volunteering

Big Questions

Is justice for all possible? Or will injustice always exist?What is justice? How do we recognize it?How do we define love? How do we show love?Should we love the people we serve?Can selfish motives result in positive action?Do one’s motives for serving or giving matter? How?What motivates us to act in the world?Where do our values come from? Why do we care about what we care about?Is my service effective? How do I know?Should we keep a distance from the people we serve?Why do we serve?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What is Lily’s life like with her grandmother?
  2. What is Old Woman Magoun protecting Lily from? How does she protect her?
  3. What do you think of Old Woman Magoun telling her granddaughter Grandma “wouldn't hurt you for nothin', except it was to save your life, or somethin' like that”?
  4. What do you make of the end of the story? Do you think Old Woman Magoun did the right thing?
  5. How do we know how to best care for and protect the people we serve? What are our limitations?
  6. Is there ever a point when our service is no longer positive or productive?
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