This intelligent, articulate young woman wrote in her journal every evening, recording far more than the day's events. Although she did note newsworthy items at the local and national level, she rarely gives the reader much of a clue what she had been doing all day long. The brief moments when she allowed herself to complain about her situation make it clear she worked long days attending to the needs of her nieces and nephews, and that she was responsible for most of the family's sewing. She chose not to dwell on drudgery. Instead, she celebrated her love of God, of Nature, and of her relatives, particularly her sister Susan.
Ellen felt close to God when she was close to Nature. In springtime, living in Boston made her "feel confined in a cage and long to soar away to my native element and live in the temple of Nature" (1:32). She believed that "no one can cultivate and watch the growth of Flowers, without feeling their hearts expand and fill with thoughts of God which exerts a beneficial influence upon the character. One ray of religious love sheds a light upon the character which no sunbeam can outshine" (2:11). She was occasionally critical of the preachers who did not deliver the word of God as purely as nature did. After one sermon, she accused the preacher of not having a "deep mind," and she chastised another for using "coarse and common" comparisons and expressions, even though his ideas were good (2:21, 1:53).
Ellen continuously returned to the concept of nature as a sublime channel to God:
In addition to connecting spiritually with God through nature, she was attuned to spiritual connections with people, through their letters. When reading "line after line traced by the loved one's hand, the image rises before me and I hear the spirit breathing the words I read" (1:17).
"What pent up feelings it awakens to roam again o'er the hills among the trees, rocks and flowers. I look upon these as not merely inanimate objects, for there seems to be a connecting link between them and our spirits a something which awakens all the fine feelings and emotions of the heart and makes us keenly sensitive to the wisdom and Goodness of God and his love and mercy to us" (1:46).
She felt divided between her home with Mary and her home with her parents, but there was one steady attraction that always made her old home in Wayland more appealing -- her sister Susan lived there. "My heart whose every chord vibrates to her own, yearns to be near her and enjoy the happiness which true sisterly love only can know," she frequently declared (2:3). After expressing her excitement that Susan would soon visit her, she added, "surely it is natural that I should rejoice at the thought of meeting a Sister whose love is pure and strong and in whom I find an echo for every thought and wish" (2:39).
Tension arose when her brother-in-law refused to let her go visit Susan, even though she could easily have been spared from his house for a few days: "I think he cares but little for me or my feelings, but I will not entertain unkind feelings towards him for Mary's sake" (1:38). Even though her relationship with William was cool, she resolved that if her sister died, she would willingly "give up all my youthful hopes and pleasures and devote my life to them, for I love them too well ever to trust them to the care of another" (1:30).
There were men in her life, or wanting to be in it, but she did not really respond to them. She visited and corresponded with Jared, and initially argued that men and women ought to able to have as close friendships as women were allowed to have. "I know it is not customary but that does not prove that it is wrong," she wrote, and insisted that she "can see no reason why those of different sex cannot be friends as well as those of the same" (1:20). A few weeks later, however, she decided to break off the correspondence "for several reasons," but her true feelings for him remained obscured. After they moved to Lexington, Mr. Thayer, a traveling daguerreotypist, fell for her, and startled her with his frank declarations. She told him she did not feel she could be any more than a "common acquaintance" of his, although she was "extremely sorry to disappoint his anticipations" (2:22). He eventually left town, after urging her to reconsider, and presenting her with her likeness in a beautiful case. The third suitor, Mr. Gammell, announced that he wanted her for his "chosen companion," but she remained unmoved (2:49). The cares of her sister's household overwhelmed her, and soon after she succumbed completely.