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
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