Katherine Anne Porter Essay, Research Paper
Rejection in Life
Katherine Anne Porter is regarded as one of the leading modern writers of short stories. Born on May 5, 1890 in Indian Creek, Texas as the great-great-great- granddaughter of the famous American frontiersman Daniel Boone, Porter was educated at various schools. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, she contributed articles to several newspapers while living in New York City, Louisiana, California, and Washington D.C., as well as Mexico and Western Europe. Miss Porter’s first collection of short stories, Flowering Judas (1930) was quickly acclaimed. These stories mostly have Mexican settings. Porter’s other major collections include Hacienda (1934), Noon Wine (1937), Pale Horse, Pale Rider (1939), The Leaning Tower (1944), and Collected Stories (1965), which was awarded the 1966 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. Porter’s only novel, Ship of Fools (1962), depicts an ocean voyage from Mexico to Germany on the eve of World War II. Collected Essays and Occasional Writings of Katherine Anne Porter also appeared in 1970. Many of Porter’s works portray a rejected individual.
The short story “The Circus” tells about a large family’s first visit to the circus. The main character, a young girl named Miranda, gets very upset when she sees a clown, with a horrid expression on his face, almost fall off a thin wire high in the air. Dicey, Miranda’s older relative, is ordered by Miranda’s father to take Miranda home. Dicey is very upset about missing the circus. Later that evening, Miranda’s family returns joyfully. Miranda and Dicey have to hear all about the magnificent circus they missed, which causes Miranda to burst into tears and run to her room. Then Dicey must console Miranda for the horrid nightmare she has during the night, about the clown at the circus. Miranda believes that Dicey is upset with her for missing the circus and pleads with her to not make her stay in the room alone. Dicey is frustrated with Miranda, but stays with her. Porter’s theme of rejection becomes evident towards the middle of the story when Miranda and Dicey return home from the circus. Miranda feels as though Dicey is frustrated with her, since it was the childish actions of Miranda which causes Dicey to miss the circus. After the family arrives home, Miranda feels like a rejected outsider because she was unable to attend the full circus after hearing her family share their enjoyment of it . “Everybody had been enjoying themselves while Miranda was missing her first big circus and spoiling the day for Dicey. Poor Dicey. Poor dear Dicey. The other children who hadn’t thought of Dicey until that moment, mourned over her with sad mouths, their malicious eyes watching Miranda squirm. Dicey had been looking forward for weeks this day! And then Miranda must get scared-’Can you imagine being afraid of that funny old clown?’ each one asked the other, and then they smiled pityingly on Miranda ” (Porter 26). Miranda’s family makes her feel silly by being scared of the clowns and being a foolish child. During the course of the night when Dicey comforts Miranda after the dream, Miranda’s feelings of rejection slowly disintegrate after Dicey’s warm and caring feelings.
“The Downward Path to Wisdom” concerns Stephen, a young boy, who is being moved around by his family because he is a “bad boy”. After Stephen’s mother and father have a dispute over the mistake of having a child, Marjory, the family’s help, whisks him off to his grandmother’s house. While there for a summer, Stephen goes through many changes. His Uncle David, gives him balloons as presents, which interest Stephen greatly because of his deprived childhood. Soon after Stephen arrives at his grandmother’s house, he begins to go to school where he becomes fond of a girl named Frances. Stephen begins to steal balloons and lemonade for her so she will continue to like him. His grandmother’s servant, Old Janet, becomes aware of Stephen’s stealing and reports it to Stephen’s Uncle David and grandmother. Uncle David and Stephen’s grandmother then believe that it is time for Stephen to live with his parents again because they didn’t want Stephen to turn out a thief like his father. On the ride home from his grandmother’s house with his mother, “Stephen began suddenly to sing to himself, a quiet, inside song so Mama would not hear. He sang his new secret; it was a comfortable, sleepy song: ‘I hate Papa, I hate Mama, I hate Grandma, I hate Old Janet, I hate Marjory, I hate Papa, I hate mama ‘” (Porter 110-1) which shows that Stephen feels alone and rejected. Rejection is another focus in Porter’s story. Stephen feels rebuffed by his family and tries to get attention by being belligerent and disobedient by stealing the balloons. Instead of positive attention, Stephen receives negative attention, which causes his family members to reject him more because they do not want to deal with a child who misbehaves and steals from his own flesh and blood. After Stephen is rejected by his relatives and returns to his parents, he sings a song of hatred for his family riding back to his home with his mother. Stephen sings this song, wanting his mother to hear him and wanting her to know that he is hurting inside from being rejected, so he can get the attention he deserves. According to Richard McGhee in The Critical Survey of Short Fiction, “His hatred is understandable, since no one genuinely reaches out to love him and help him with his very real problems of adjustment” (1912). This statement explains how the actions of Porter’s main character, Stephen, are misunderstood, causing everyone around to reject him.
Porter’s portrayal of rejection among her characters is very evident in these stories. Porter’s stories cause the reader to sympathize with her characters and actually allow the reader to relate the story to personal life experiences of rejection.
Porter, Katherine Anne. “The Circus.” The Leaning Tower and Other Stories. New York: Dell, 1934. 21-9.
- – -. “The Downward Path to Wisdom.” The Leaning Tower and Other Stories. New York: Dell, 1934. 81-111.
McGhee, Richard D. “Katherine Anne Porter.” Critical Survey of Short Fiction. Ed. Frank N. Magill. Vol. 5. Boston: Salem, 1993.