Katherine Anne Porter: Master Of The “Carpe Diem” Theme Essay, Research Paper
Katherine Anne Porter: Master of the “Carpe Diem” Theme
Katherine Anne Porter’s writings demonstrate several predominant themes that occur throughout many of her stories. Porter’s writings all encompass her personal ideas regarding death and dying, mourning, loss and loneliness, injustice and rejection. Katherine Porter explores the lives of her characters, who seem drawn into disillusionment and despair. Through her stories, readers get a strong sense of the characters’ personal guilt, isolation and sadness. The main recurring theme in her work coincides with the “Carpe Diem” philosophy, meaning to “seize the day” and to act in and enjoy the present. Porter conveys to the reader that people should live for each day and not dwell on the past, as doing so will only lead to a life of unhappiness and regret.
Katherine Anne Porter excels at showing peoples personal rejections. In “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”, she shows how people can go through their entire lives feeling rejected and inadequate. Ellen “Granny” Weatherall is jilted at the altar over sixty years
earlier, and never truly recovers from this rejection of love. After the jilting, she forces herself to give some order to her life, but by doing so Granny is trying to reconcile herself to being left at the altar. Granny Weatherall lives her entire life comparing her life with John to the life she could have had with George, had he not left her at the altar. Porter demonstrates here that Granny’s life, which was filled with mourning, loss and rejection was wholly due to her jilting sixty years earlier. Because of her jilting sixty years earlier, Granny never actually loved anyone. “Love was denied Granny the day she was jilted and she herself never again dared to love. But without love, Granny’s radically human hurt was never healed” (Wiesenfarth 108). Granny Weatherall spent her life simply going through the daily motions, but she was never satisfied for what she had achieved during her lifetime.
Porter conveys this very well in the story through her stream-of-consciousness perspective on Granny’s deathbed. “The next world enters the story to give meaning to this world. The boundary situation is here for the sake of the land of the living, not of the dead” (Wiesenfarth 108). At the end of the story Granny reasons that she has had an
unfulfilling life due solely to her jilting all those years ago; but in reality, through perseverance and hard work, Granny has surmounted life’s obstacles and endured into old age with children who love her. However, buried in Granny’s most secret self, there is the vivid memory of her rejection. She has not been able to share this deep hurt with her loved ones, and it has cut off a central and tender part of herself from everyone. Porter has drawn Granny’s character so well, her story becomes an example for readers to see: an example to show people that they should not waste today for disappointments of yesterday.
Porter also shows this rejection theme in “Flowering Judas.” Laura, the main character, is in love with Eugenio, who is a political prisoner. Braggioni, the leader of the revolution and suitor of Laura, frightens her because she is not in love with him and he is known for his cruelty and vanity. Laura has been trying to resist his advances without appearing to do so. She is living in Mexico and teaching and does not know why, as she is beginning to disagree with revolutionary theories. The struggle for Laura is that she frequently finds herself being unhappy and depressed with her life. “In Laura, the principle rejection is exposed as having over-extended
itself. Through its operation she has become, for all her youth and femininity, a strong, detached, self-sufficient woman; but she has also become almost completely isolated from humanity” (Nance 23).
Katherine Porter implies through Laura’s characterization that simply going through the motions of life does not guarantee one’s happiness. Laura’s love for Eugenio is the source of her unhappiness. “The principal plot element employed to expose the bitterness of Laura’s isolationism is her imputed love for Eugenio; the principal means of revealing the presence of her rejection theme in the story will be the demonstration of the unreality of that love” (Nance 24). Laura is consumed with guilt to the extent of suffering from moral depression. She merely goes through the motions of being a teacher and rebel without comprehension of the reasons behind her actions. While Braggioni will betray anyone, Laura betrays herself. She is unable to differentiate between her concepts of life as it should be and life as it actually is.
Porter’s works also embody many concepts of justice. “Many of her best stories are, in fact, about the efforts of individuals to maintain, attain, or regain justice in their dealings with others” (Moddelmog 64). In “Granny
Weatherall,” Granny did not achieve justice until the day she died. She spent her life unhappy, unsatisfied and unfulfilled. In death, Granny Weatherall finally receives the justice she deserves- realization that something is missing in her life, true happiness. Ultimately, on her deathbed Granny comprehends that she has lived her life never fully recovering from her jilting sixty years earlier. Thus, this enlightenment is Granny’s “justice.”
Porter’s justice concept is also prevalent in “Flowering Judas.” Laura has lived her life in isolation and sadness. She never understands the reasons why she is still living in Mexico under false pretenses. Finally, at the end of the story, Laura awakes from her nightmare to realize she was wrong living her life the way she has. It took this epiphany for Laura to come to terms with the fact that there were major problems with her life. This nightmare holds as an example to show that Laura is at a point of great unhappiness in her life, and it took this dream to make her realize this unhappiness. “The desire to right personal wrongs sometimes drives Porter’s characters to extremes” (Moddelmog 64).
Porter’s most dominant concept in her works is the emphasis of people’s imperfections. She does this to reinforce the idea that bad things happen in life, but one should learn, grow and move on. For example, Granny in “Granny Weatherall” is “one of those women who are respected exactly in proportion as they have escaped from the spiritual limitations of their surroundings by dominating them” (Nance 42). Granny Weatherall could not control the fact that George left her at the altar, so she in turn gave some order to her life. But, by doing so, she never actually got over George. “Granny Weatherall believes that her prayers and her exemplary life will ensure that she will never again feel like she did on the day she was jilted” (Piedmont-Marton 2). This false hope demonstrates another example of Granny Weatherall’s imperfections.
In “Flowering Judas,” Porter vividly points out Laura’s imperfections. Laura is insecure and feels unhappy about virtually everything in her life. She does not love Braggioni, who constantly makes advances to her, and the man she does love is in jail. In the end of the story her lover dies because of the drugs she had smuggled to him and she experiences extreme anxiety over his death.
[Flowering Judas] is a paralysis of the will,
induced through a refusal on the part of the
soul to make a resolute choice between good and
evil. Unwilling to risk the loss of either
world..trying to hold on to the advantages of
both without making a declaration for either
Laura cannot decide what direction she wants her life to go, so she continues in a state of unhappiness, which is her most dominant imperfection.
Katherine Anne Porter is a master of showing that people should live for today and not be tied to disappointments of the past, incorporating her “Carpe Diem” theme. Her stories allow readers to reflect on the positive events in their own lives. Through her writings, Porter sends readers an important moral message; although we have no control over some of the disappointments life deals us, we do have control over how we react to these events. Life can at times be painful and difficult, however our responses to these negative events will often determine the degree of our future happiness.
Williams, Joseph. “Katherine Anne Porter: Literary Genius.” Doubleday books. New York. 1998
Garside, Carrie. “Katherine Anne Porter’s Writings.” Doubleday books. 1979. Boston.