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In Kay Chronister's short story "The Fifth Gable," the women who live in the four-gabled house are described in an interlude.

Before they had been women who lived in the four-gabled house, they had been:

A maiden aunt.

A minister’s wife.

A washed-up stage actress.

A nurse.

They did not resemble themselves anymore.

I might be wrong, but as I see no other order to this list, I think that the first description ("A maiden aunt") belongs to the woman who makes her bed in the first gable, and the second to the second etc. There is a certain amount of support for this throughout the story; for example, when the women of the house bury Marigold's third child (the one from the woman who makes her bed in the first gable), it would seem appropriate that the minister's wife would suggest a religious activity for the funeral.

“We should sing a hymn,” said the woman who made her bed in the second gable.

“Why?” said the woman who made her bed in the fourth gable.

“It’s conventional. She’d like that.”

It makes sense that the woman who makes her bed in the third gable, whose reproductive process is linked to drama, is the "washed-up stage actress." A stereotypical minister's wife would keep a garden, I suppose, so it makes sense that the woman who made her bed in the second gable would produce botanical offspring.

I just don't understand why a former nurse would be associated with technology, and children made of metal. I guess it's possible that the women's life-creating powers don't relate to their former occupations, but then those don't really need to be mentioned at all, right? (And that also would contradict the pattern I established above.)
Although, to be fair, associating the nurse with the almost-biological process of the woman who made her bed in the first gable cellar does make a certain amount of sense.

Another possibility is that the order of former vocations does not match the order of gables. I just think it makes sense to make the list follow that order; besides, if I'm right about the actress and the minister's wife, that means that half of the list does follow that order.

But, assuming I'm right in my assumptions about the women and their former jobs, why does the nurse create with metal?

  • Yes, I also wonder where a fifth gable suddenly appears in a "four-gabled house." If you read the story, you'll also find that the house had only one gable at an earlier point in its history. Perhaps this could be something for another question :) – Shokhet Feb 21 '17 at 17:23
  • Asked: literature.stackexchange.com/q/1790/481 – Shokhet Feb 22 '17 at 16:41
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They did not resemble themselves anymore.

While the associations you draw, linking the various women to the various professions, make sense, I feel they are very weakly supported by the text -- relying on broad stereotypes and tenuous speculation. Even if there is a link here, it is likely to be equally tenuous.

Note how late this text is placed in the story -- only after three iterations of baby-creation have (almost) completed; as a momentary interlude before the double climax (of what the first woman makes Marigold do, and the fifth gable). This doesn't seem to me like establishing character; its goal is not to characterize the individual women. The need to establish the women as similar, but each an individual, has passed - Marigold has already been through all but the last of them.

Instead, it is further characterization of the group, as one that was once "normal" and "conventional" ("The women had been married before, to ordinary men..."), and then actively banded together ("The women who lived in the four-gabled house found each other in tabloids, then in Sunday papers, then finally in a medical journal that three times failed to pass a peer review..."). This is crucial to establish, since at the story's conclusion we learn that the women are not together only for shared sorrow and circumstances, but are actually cooperating, working in synergy, to achieve something they could not accomplish alone.

Reiterating that all these women left lives and careers, bitter or otherwise, serves to reinforce that -- and strengthen the double view the entire story runs on: what seems like women isolating themselves in shared misery, being shunned for their strangeness, turns out to be a deliberate and cooperative project.

So, what's important here is that they did not resemble themselves anymore. That their sorrow, their power, their shared house and what they have done with it, has shaped them into something new and different. If there was a strong clear connection, if the influence of their previous lives had been clearly present, that would have been the oddity.

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A proposal for a possible connection - tenuous, but no more than those you've suggested:

Nurses work at hospitals, which are full of machines and medical instruments. Think of patients hooked up to IVs and beeping machines of every shape and size -- this is what nurses deal with constantly; it's a lot of what their care for patients look like.

Now, medical instrumentation isn't quite "parts of old radios and tractors," and have more beeping than "the spinning of propellors." But the essential idea that machinery is what sustains and creates life, sounds like a conclusion you can certainly choose to draw.

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