full title · A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785–1812
author · Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
type of work · Historical portrait
genre · Nonfiction, history
language · English
time and place written · New England, 1980s
date of first publication · 1990
publisher · Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
narrator · Ulrich and Martha’s diary entries
point of view · The passages from Martha’s diary are in the first person; Ulrich’s writing is in the third person.
tone · Though occasionally given to self-pity, Martha generally talks about her life in very factual terms, and Ulrich only rarely disagrees with Martha’s perceptions of events and people.
tense · Past tense
setting (time) · 1785–1812
setting (place) · Augusta (originally Hallowell), a small town in Maine
protagonist · Martha Ballard
major conflict · Martha struggles through the many challenges of raising a family and having a career in early New England.
rising action · As Martha assists midwives with deliveries, she gives birth to eight children of her own, losing three of them to a diphtheria epidemic.
climax · Martha and her children follow Ephraim to Hallowell, where her age and experience make her the town’s most popular midwife.
falling action · Martha raises her children and holds onto her career through illness, age, depression, and family trauma.
themes · Actions speak louder than words; the importance of simple moments; the contentment of a well-ordered life
motifs · Births; community relations; responsibility
symbols · Martha’s house; Martha’s garden; prayer