The following is a literary analysis on the short story “Mrs. Moonlight,” by Helen Norris, which was published in 1988 as part of the short story collection “Water into Wine.” The story tells the tale of an aging woman named Fanny Gideon who has dementia, but holds onto a treasured memory from her past. She lives with her grown-up daughter, and yet, is destined for a retirement home, due to her condition. Fanny wants nothing to do with this, however. She is reunited with the true love of her youth, a man named Robert, whom she runs away with. In short, “Mrs. Moonlight” reveals a unique view into the subject of aging. Norris uses the plot (an element of fiction), in ways of exposition, conflict, and resolution to help establish one of the story’s major themes: youth versus old age.
To begin, Norris elaborates on the theme of youth vs. old age via the exposition. She does this by first introducing the tree house that Fanny Gideon is having built, a tree house that is a re-make from her childhood, where “the best years of her life had been spent” (98). Much is explained within this earlier section, including the reasoning for why she longs after her youth, and for what value the tree house has for her. To Fanny, those years in her tree house were a time of beauty, clarity, and a revelation of perfection; where the world made sense and she felt spiritually connected to nature; where she and her love, Robert—here introduced—spent many evenings together (98-99). The exposition thus reveals the premise, or theme, which is embodied in the main character: the nostalgic longings of an elderly woman for a past life. The stage is set for the contrast between the old and the new, between the perfect and the fading realities. Norris makes it clear that to Fanny, her seniority is but an echo of the youth she once knew and a struggle to retain what she once was (102).
Next, Norris continues her exploration of youth vs. old age as a theme by introducing Fanny’s daughter, and the conflict that arises thereafter. Having just returned home from a two-week business trip, Fanny’s daughter immediately decides that the tree house has to come down. In the following interactions, Norris effectively establishes their troubled relationship; where the roles have switched, but the daughter is having difficulty caring for Fanny (99-100). Fanny’s desire for the autonomy of her youth is challenged by her daughter’s authority, and she is tired of being treated like she doesn’t have “sense enough” to live on her own, which leads her to run away with Robert (100). The somewhat condescending description of Fanny daughter, as well as Norris’ decision to leave her nameless further indicates the widening gap between the two women (99). This conflict, set about mid-way through the story, once again reinforces the theme. Yet, no longer does it represent an introspective struggle for identity, as much as it dramatizes an interpersonal clash by means of generational conflict and discordance.
Finally, Norris further visits the theme of youth vs. old age by means of the story’s resolution. Following the climax of Fanny and Robert running away, they soon after arrive at a small cabin in a nearby county—belonging to Robert’s brother (101). In the last few pages Norris goes to great lengths to fully develop the extent of their love, long dormant, and the revival of feelings they experienced as youth in their tree house. Fanny and Robert consider the outcome of their long-standing love and what will happen once their children find them. The final confrontation is set when they decide to stay with each other, and Fanny resolves to forget her daughter in favor of the ideal of her youth—the everlasting memory of the tree house, and of Robert (102-104). The daughter arrives and Robert refuses to be separated from Fanny again (as in their youth), saying, “Not this time. This time we’re married,” to which Norris refers to Fanny’s joy returned: “She had only to rise and belong to the tree world, belong to its mystery, the mystery of greenness, her own sweet youth” (104). The resolution therefore reconciles the previous two views to the theme, as explored via the exposition and conflict. Fanny and Robert are able to find some form of closure in their battle with the aging process. They have defied their children and superseded the prohibitions that prevented the consummation of their love so long ago. By means of age they have finally returned to their youth; the unforeseen, illogical completion of a cycle procured by destiny.
In conclusion, the short story “Mrs. Moonlight,” written by Helen Norris, is an emotional, dramatized glance into the life of an aging couple—Fanny and Robert—who are long in love, but have faced a lifetime of conflict and separation. Struggling to find independence in their old age, they hold onto the precious memory of their youth; together and free in the tree house that is their utopia. Norris effectively uses the plot—an element of fiction—in ways of exposition, conflict, and resolution to help establish the theme of youth vs. old age. The happenings of the story explore and guide the theme through its various perspectives: the personal struggles of Fanny with dementia, the impatience of her grown daughter-turned-caretaker, and finally, her reunion with Robert.
Norris, Helen. “Mrs. Moonlight.” Encounters: Reading for Advanced Composition. Ed. William R. Epperson and Mark R. Hall. Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt, 2001. 97-104. Print.