The Widow’s Might

by

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Mrs. McPherson Character Analysis

Mrs. McPherson is the widow of the recently deceased Mr. McPherson and the mother of James, Ellen, and Adelaide. Mrs. McPherson spent most of her adult life—from her early 20s to her 50s—tied down by a sense of duty to sacrifice her own dreams and desires in service of her husband and children. Throughout her husband’s funeral, she stays hidden behind a black mourning veil, and her children assume that behind it they’ll find a sad old woman. When she uncovers her face, however, she reveals that she isn’t saddened by her husband’s death but instead excited to finally live a fully independent life on her own terms. Unbeknownst to anyone, she has already begun to live a more free and independent life in the last three years. Mr. McPherson signed all his property over to her, and she has been running their ranch ever since. She made sure he was cared for as his illness progressed, ultimately establishing and running a small, profitable hospital on the ranch. This business earned her an economic independence she never had before. This economic freedom, as well as her freedom from familial obligation, marks the true beginning of her own life. Rather than move in with her children, as they assume she will, Mrs. McPherson plans to use her hard-earned money to travel the world.

Mrs. McPherson Quotes in The Widow’s Might

The The Widow’s Might quotes below are all either spoken by Mrs. McPherson or refer to Mrs. McPherson . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
).
The Widow’s Might Quotes

“Perhaps if she stayed with me, you could—help some,” suggested Ellen.

“Of course, of course, I could do that,” he agreed with evident relief. “She might visit between you –take turns—and I could pay her board. About how much ought it to amount to? We might as well arrange everything now.”

“Things cost awfully these days,” Ellen said with a crisscross of fine wrinkles on her pale forehead. “But, of course it would be only just what it costs. I shouldn’t want to make anything.”

“It’s work and care, Ellen, and you may as well admit it.”

Related Characters: Ellen (speaker), Adelaide (speaker), James (speaker), Mrs. McPherson
Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:

“She had help toward the last—a man nurse,” said Adelaide.

“Yes, but a long illness is an awful strain—and Mother never was good at nursing. She has surely done her duty,” pursued Ellen.

“And now she’s entitled to rest,” said James, rising and walking about the room.

Related Characters: Adelaide (speaker), Ellen (speaker), Mrs. McPherson
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:

Ellen looked out across the dusty stretches of land.

“How I did hate to live here!” she said.

“So did I,” said Adelaide.

“So did I,” said James.

And they all three smiled rather grimly.

“We don’t any of us seem to be very—affectionate, about mother,” Adelaide presently admitted, “I don’t know why it is—we never were an affectionate family, I guess”

“Nobody could be affectionate with Father,” Ellen suggested timidly.

“And Mother—poor Mother! She’s had an awful life.”

“Mother has always done her duty,” said James in a determined voice, “and so did Father, as he saw it. Now we’ll do ours.”

Related Characters: James (speaker), Ellen (speaker), Adelaide (speaker), Mrs. McPherson , Mr. McPherson
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:

“I dare say it was safer—to have the property in your name—technically,” James admitted, “but now I think it would be the simplest way for you to make it over to me in a lump, and I will see that Father’s wishes are carried out to the letter.”

“Your father is dead,” remarked the voice.

“Yes, Mother, we know—we know how you feel,” Ellen ventured.

“I am alive,” said Mrs. McPherson.

Related Characters: James (speaker), Mrs. McPherson (speaker), Ellen (speaker), Mr. McPherson
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:

“I have no children, Mr. Frankland. I have two daughters and a son. Those two grown persons here, grown up, married, having children of their own—or ought to have—were my children. I did my duty by them, and they did their duty by me—and would yet, no doubt.” The tone changed suddenly. “But they don’t have to. I’m tired of duty.” The little group of listeners looked up, startled.

Related Characters: Mrs. McPherson (speaker), James, Ellen, Adelaide, Mr. Frankland
Page Number: 145
Explanation and Analysis:

“I’m going to do what I never did before. I’m going to live!”

With a firm swift step, the tall figure moved to the window and pulled up the lowered shades. The brilliant Colorado sunshine poured into the room. She threw off the long black veil.

“That’s borrowed,” she said. “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings at the funeral.”

She unbuttoned the long black cloak and dropped it at her feet, standing there in the full sunlight, a little flushed and smiling, dressed in a well-made traveling suit of dull mixed colors.

Related Characters: Mrs. McPherson (speaker), Adelaide, Ellen, James
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

“If you want to know my plans, I’ll tell you. I’ve got $6,000 of my own. I earned it in three years—off my little ranch sanitarium. One thousand I have put in the savings bank—to bring me back from anywhere on earth, and to put me in an old lady’s home if necessary. Here is an agreement with a cremation company. They’ll import me, if necessary, and have me duly—expurgated—or they don’t get the money. But I’ve got $5,000 to play with, and I’m going to play.”

Related Characters: Mrs. McPherson (speaker)
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

“Are you—are you sure you’re—well, Mother?” Ellen urged with real anxiety.

Her mother laughed outright.

“Well, really well, never was better, have been doing business up to to-day—good medical testimony that. No question of my sanity, my dears! I want you to grasp the fact that your mother is a Real Person with some interests of her own and half a lifetime yet. The first twenty didn’t count for much—I was growing up and couldn’t help myself. The last thirty have been—hard. James perhaps realizes that more than you girls, but you all know it. Now, I’m free.”

Related Characters: Mrs. McPherson (speaker), Ellen (speaker), James, Adelaide, Mr. McPherson
Page Number: 146-147
Explanation and Analysis:

“Where do you mean to go, Mother?” James asked.

She looked around the little circle with a serene air of decision and replied.

“To New Zealand. I’ve always wanted to go there,” she pursued. “Now I’m going. And to Australia—and Tasmania—and Madagascar—and Terra del Fuego. I shall be gone some time.”

They separated that night—three going East, one West.

Related Characters: Mrs. McPherson (speaker), James (speaker), Adelaide, Ellen
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:
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Mrs. McPherson Character Timeline in The Widow’s Might

The timeline below shows where the character Mrs. McPherson appears in The Widow’s Might. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Widow’s Might
Love vs. Duty Theme Icon
...illness. They quickly transition into a discussion about what to do with their now widowed mother, Mrs. McPherson. First, Ellen offers to take her, admitting that her husband’s salary is more... (full context)
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
Love vs. Duty Theme Icon
James looks at both his sisters and asks how old their mother is. Ellen replies that she’s 50 and presumes she is worn out after caring for... (full context)
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
Love vs. Duty Theme Icon
Ellen suggests that if their mother stays with her, James could help out. James agrees and suggests that their mother could... (full context)
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
Now Adelaide again offers to take her mother in, saying that her house is big enough and that her husband would barely notice... (full context)
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
Love vs. Duty Theme Icon
...business and he has to look after his own parents. She can only give their mother a home. (full context)
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
Love vs. Duty Theme Icon
Ellen insists that either she or Adelaide can take their mother in, and if James is willing to pay, he’ll be spared the effort of caring... (full context)
Love vs. Duty Theme Icon
Adelaide interjects that she noticed her mother’s black funeral clothes were old—the same ones she has worn for as long as she... (full context)
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
Love vs. Duty Theme Icon
...disrespect his memory with this kind of talk. Ellen changes the topic, noting that their mother didn’t remove her veil at the funeral. She suspects that, when they see her, their... (full context)
Love vs. Duty Theme Icon
James says that their mother has earned her rest, and he wonders how quickly they’ll be able to settle the... (full context)
Love vs. Duty Theme Icon
Adelaide admits that none of them are very affectionate towards their mother and reflects that the entire family never showed much affection. Timidly, Ellen says that no... (full context)
Love vs. Duty Theme Icon
Mr. Frankland arrives, and Ellen stands up to retrieve their mother, Mrs. McPherson. She runs upstairs and knocks on her door. She lets her know that... (full context)
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
Love vs. Duty Theme Icon
...is brief—their father, Mr. Frankland explains, left what remained of the estate (after deducting their mother’s portion) to the three siblings in four equal parts. Two of those parts are left... (full context)
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
Death, Loss, and New Beginnings Theme Icon
Just then, Mrs. McPherson joins the group. She’s tall and draped in her black veil and funeral clothes. She... (full context)
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
Death, Loss, and New Beginnings Theme Icon
Mr. Frankland is shocked and exclaims that Mr. McPherson had property four years ago. Mrs. McPherson agrees, but then she explains that he gave it to her three and a half... (full context)
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
Love vs. Duty Theme Icon
James clears his throat. He tells his mother that this revelation complicates the siblings’ original plan to settle all the financial business that... (full context)
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
...is dead. Ellen tentatively responds that they know, and they know how she feels. Their mother declares that she is alive. Adelaide, impatient and a little annoyed, tells her that they... (full context)
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
Death, Loss, and New Beginnings Theme Icon
James adds that the affairs must be settled right away. Mrs. McPherson replies that everything is already settled. James, now impatient himself, suggests that Mr. Frankland might... (full context)
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
Love vs. Duty Theme Icon
Death, Loss, and New Beginnings Theme Icon
Mrs. McPherson says she’d spent the last thirty years considering her husband’s wishes and it’s time for... (full context)
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
Love vs. Duty Theme Icon
Death, Loss, and New Beginnings Theme Icon
The siblings and Mr. Frankland are shocked by her words. Mrs. McPherson continues, telling them that they have no idea how life on the ranch has been... (full context)
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
Love vs. Duty Theme Icon
Death, Loss, and New Beginnings Theme Icon
Mrs. McPherson tells her children that she has tended a garden, cows, and chickens and that she... (full context)
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
Love vs. Duty Theme Icon
Death, Loss, and New Beginnings Theme Icon
...$2,000 a year. Ellen shyly inquires if she’ll still come to live with her, and Mrs. McPherson thanks her before declining. Adelaide likewise offers her home, and Mrs. McPherson declines again. Finally,... (full context)
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
Love vs. Duty Theme Icon
Death, Loss, and New Beginnings Theme Icon
With real concern, Ellen asks what she is going to do in that case. Mrs. McPherson declares: “I’m going to do what I never did before! I’m going to live!” She... (full context)
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
Death, Loss, and New Beginnings Theme Icon
Mrs. McPherson tells the siblings she’ll explain her plan. She has $6,000 saved up, money she earned... (full context)
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
Love vs. Duty Theme Icon
Death, Loss, and New Beginnings Theme Icon
Mrs. McPherson says she knew her children wouldn’t understand, but she doesn’t care anymore. She declares that... (full context)
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
Love vs. Duty Theme Icon
Death, Loss, and New Beginnings Theme Icon
...She says she’ll be gone for a significant amount of time. The siblings and their mother separate that night, the siblings heading east while their mother goes west. (full context)