Wilkins Freeman, tells the story of a nineteenth century family and the underlying inner conflict between the mother, Sarah Penn, and her husband, Adoniram Penn. The author portrays Sarah as humble and obedient to her husband throughout most of the story but later reveals Sarah's strong and independent spirit when Sarah decides to move her family into her husband's new barn. Freeman uses comparison and contrast to convey to the reader the domineering nature of Adoniram and the submissiveness of his wife, Sarah. However, a situational irony is created when the true spirit and determination of Sarah is revealed. By the end of the story, Adoniram realizes he is no longer in charge of his wife and his family as he once thought he was.
Many examples of female submissiveness and male dominance are depicted throughout the story. The author describes Sarah's forehead as "mild and benevolent between the smooth curves of gray hair". (244) This statement makes her appear passive and mild-mannered. Her daughter, Nanny, is described as young and pretty: "pink and delicate as a flower". (245) This description conveys to the reader a sense of Nanny's frailty. Freeman emphasizes Nanny's frailty again later in the story when Sarah is telling Adoniram that Nanny "wasn't never strong" and "there wasn't never any backbone to her". (248) These statements help the reader develop a sense of humility and compliance displayed by women in the nineteenth century and also establish the authority of the husband.
Examples of male dominance are also greatly depicted numerous times throughout the story. The author begins by describing Adoniram as an old man who tells his wife to go into the house and "tend to [her] own affairs". (244) When she questions him about the digging in the field, he makes it clear to her that he does not have to tell her what he is doing. This male dominance is also depicted in her son, Sammy, because he is aware that his father is building a barn and his mother and sister are not aware of it at all.