Short stories have a way of conveying sometimes very complex thoughts in very simple and understandable terms. Mary Wilkins Freeman, for instance, takes a complicated subject such as national identity, and makes it easy to grasp through the portrayal of her characters. National identity is a concept that has been explored in numerous philosophical and sociological circles as various individuals have attempted to define and narrow the term. In general, it refers to a certain sense of loyalty and belonging an individual feels toward a national concept or idea. While there are certain regions where this idea seems pretty straight-forward, such as in America, there remain numerous regions in which this sense of identity may differ, such as in England, where citizens may consider themselves British, Scottish or Irish with equal or perhaps greater adherence. When the United States was just beginning, there were several people who felt confused over which country they most identified with – America as a new nation or Britain as the old country. In her short story “Catherine Carr”, Freeman illustrates how individuals with a strong sense of British identity ‘became’ Americans through conflict and understanding.
At the beginning of her story, Freeman expressly states how both Catherine Carr and her grandmother felt a strong adherence to the British crown. In attempting to dissuade her brother from fighting against the British, Catherine tells him, “Go fight for the one true country and the one true government,” but her brother proves as headstrong as Catherine herself and fights for the cause he believes in. Although Catherine may seem to feel that both Britain and America are a single country, she still manages to acknowledge that they are inevitably separated for once and all when she talks to her grandmother about the red petticoat she’s sewing on the porch. Her grandmother comments on the beauty of the color and Catherine, being fully aware of the sentiments of the country, comments, “The people of this country like it not overwell, at this time of year or any other,” said Catherine, with a laugh, referring to the red coats of the British soldiers.
However, as the British come in close to the house, her first instinct is to go warn the nearby village so that they might have sufficient time to prepare their defenses. When the local tavern-keeper and his household flee into the swamps rather than look out for the welfare of their neighbors, Catherine takes it on herself to do the job. Thus, she illustrates that while her loyalties in principle are still connected to the crown of England, her sentiments are more closely connected with the people she lives in close proximity to. As her grandmother tries to call her back, it is revealed that Catherine is acting out of loyalty to her heart. “Let them fall, then! What you are thinking of, Catherine Carr, is Miles Wadsworth’s father and mother, and sister Pamela.” This reminder of Catherine’s lost fiancé comes just in time to help the reader identify with the immediate feelings of recognition and desperation Catherine feels when she sees Miles struggling up the road, attempting to get himself to the village to warn them as well as he can. To save her love, she is willing to perjure herself to British soldiers by pretending the house has been taken by smallpox. Her grandmother again makes everything clear as she tells Catherine, “Laugh, if you can, at falsehood and disloyalty against your rightful country and ruler,” said she, “but you know not if they will not return and shoot your lover in there, and you know not if he be not lying dead now with a sunstroke.”
Once Miles is safe and resting, Catherine is able to turn her attention to what he would want done had he been capable of doing it himself. His fierce loyalty to the American people, above and beyond his own desires to be with Catherine or to live a full life, impact Catherine and drive her forward in aligning herself even more closely with Americans over British. “Catherine had no thought of the heat as she sped along, being fully possessed with fiercest love and loyalty, not for her country — for as to that she was divided — but for her lover. She remembered Miles Wadsworth’s anxiety for the safety of Stonington, and how he had risked his own life for that end, and rather than fire against his country-men.” Because her lover was loyal to the new country, Catherine could do nothing more than try to protect it as well as she might for his sake, purposely working against the British in order to save him and what he loved.
In the end, Miles Wadsworth is saved by pretending to lie dead underneath a British flag with Catherine weeping over him. While the pretence bothers him later, that his life was spared by pretending to be a loyal British citizen, Catherine has been able to make the switch in her allegiance from one country to another through the conflict she has taken part in. Although she remains understanding regarding her grandmother’s sentiments and appreciative to the British flag for all it has given her, she is fully committed to Miles and the new country she now calls home.
Freeman, Mary Wilkins. “Catherine Carr.” Book Title. Place of publication: Publisher’s name, date of publication: page numbers.