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Literature / The White Old Maid

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The White Old Maid is a short story written by Nathaniel Hawthorne as a part of his Twice Told Tales collection.

Our story opens up with a scene of a dead body of a young man with two woman standing over him. One claims to the other, that she had him in life and to let her have him now in death. The two agree to part but make a vow that the other (aka the one who had him in life) is to go out into the world and at the time of her death return here and "if thou tellest of sufferings more than death, we will both forgive thee". They swear on a lock of the dead man's hair and the one departs.


Many years later, the one who left is now an eccentric old woman who is known in the town to visit graves and follow behind funeral processions. Until one day everyone gets surprised when she heads to an old house long since abandoned and is let inside by someone everyone regards as having been dead for years. Then a fancy carriage pulls up as another old woman enters the house. The townsfolk have no idea what is going on. Until a preacher arrives (the same who came many years ago when the young man died) and with one member of the townsfolk go inside and find the two women dead together with the lock of hair. The full secrets told, are left a mystery to the townsfolk and reader alike.


Tropes in this short story:

  • Dead All Along: Played with at least at the very beginning. In the first paragraph's beginning we get some lemony narration that describes the man but by the end it is quickly established he's dead.
  • Death Equals Redemption: Somehow it seems our Love Triangle got there even if we're left in the dark about all the details.
  • Lampshade Hanging: The man who enters the house ends the story by throwing one last joke at the reader that now with both of the ladies deceased, "Then who shall divulge the secret?"
  • Locked Out of the Loop: While we the reader have a bit more knowledge of the deal made many years ago, all the townsfolk have legitimatley no clue what the heck is going on.
  • Love Triangle: The two laides and the man were clearly involved in one before the story itself began.
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  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: There's no real explanation given as to why the door to the abandoned estate is opened by someone who looks to be a servant all the townsfolk knew to be dead. Whether this was his ghost or if the lady simply hired someone who by coincidence looked like him to be there are both not improbable interpretations.
  • Old, Dark House: The house where the man dies and where the two women agree to return has become this by the time they meet if it wasn't already this when it all began.
  • Stalker with a Crush: It seems the one who didn't have him in life, may have been this to the couple.
  • Together in Death: Implied with the ending that whatever the Love Triangle was before the middle piece's death that after all three are dead they have somehow found peace together.

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