The Courtship of Miles Standish Study Guide

The Courtship of Miles Standish By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Miles Standish, a military Captain, and his younger, handsomer roommate John Alden, a writer, are Pilgrims freshly dropped off in Plymouth. The Mayflower is preparing to leave tomorrow. Standish writes letters regarding the Mayflower's departure, and also writes a marriage proposal to Priscilla Mullens, with whom he is infatuated. He asks Alden to re-write and deliver his message to her, as John is a much better writer -- not realizing that Alden is also in love with the same woman.

When he arrives at Priscilla's, she mentions that she was thinking of him, and he exults. Nevertheless, he delivers the proposal, but does so without artistry or grace. She is insulted that Standish wouldn't come and deliver the proposal himself, and Alden makes a mess of trying to smooth things out. Priscilla turns down the proposal, but Alden keeps talking, trying to convince her, going on and on about how amazing Standish is. At long last, Priscilla asks John why he doesn't speak for himself, recognizing that he is attracted to her as well.

Alden escapes, wondering at the conflict between his friendship and his love, asking himself if the failure of Standish's proposal is his fault. He returns to Standish and tells him the entire story, and when Standish hears of her final retort, he is very upset. He goes out and makes war with the Indians.

The Mayflower sails, and afterward, Priscilla approaches Alden, asking him for his friendship but not his love. He agrees, and tells Priscilla of Standish's anger, and she demeans Standish even more. Standish returns from war with several gory trophies, and Priscilla, horrified, is even more glad she declined his proposal.

Months later, Priscilla is spinning at her spinning-wheel, and Alden compares her to great housewives of the past. Priscilla is mildly upset, and mocks Alden by suggesting he become a house-husband, and makes him help her at the spinning-wheel. News arrives that Standish is dead, killed by an Indian, and Alden responds by confessing his affections for Priscilla, and the two fall into one another's arms.

On their wedding day, Miles Standish, having survived the Indian's poisoned arrow, returns, and begs Alden's forgiveness for his anger, giving the pair his blessing. Alden and Priscilla are happily married, and Standish is happy for both of them.

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