The china tea set that Louisa loves symbolizes her willingness to remain unmarried and live alone even though it is not socially customary. Louisa is not particularly wealthy—although she lives by herself in her own home, she likely inherited that money after her family died. Louisa is “no richer or better bred” than her working-class neighbors, which means that her china tea set is clearly an indulgence. The joy she gets from this indulgence mirrors the way that living alone might not be completely practical, since she’d probably be financially safer with a husband, but it is truly what she wants and desires. Louisa’s neighbors “whisper” about her using the china—they use more practical crockery—which echoes th whispers the people in town must have about her situation as an older and unmarried woman. Louisa’s insistence on doing what she wants regardless of the whispers (“still she would use the china,” the story notes) indicates her willingness to break from the traditions of what is expected of her as a woman in 1800’s Massachusetts. The story even describes Louisa preparing the tea with “as much grace as if she’d been a veritable guest to her own self,” which shows that the entire process of making the tea is a form of self-consideration. Thus, the china tea set symbolizes Louisa’s ability to avoid societal norms and do what is best for herself.
The China Tea Set Quotes in A New England Nun
Louisa was slow and still in her movements; it took her a long time to prepare her tea; but when ready it was set forth with as much grace as if she had been a veritable guest to her own self…Louisa used china every day—something which none of her neighbors did. They whispered about it among themselves. Their daily tables were laid with common crockery, their sets of best china stayed in the parlor closet, and Louisa Ellis was no richer nor better bred than they. Still she would use the china.