A "hard unwinking angry point of light" and "the fluctuation of starlight"

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A "hard unwinking angry point of light" and "the fluctuation of starlight" female identity in the short fiction of Katherine Anne Porter and Eudora Welty
Warren, Colleen
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Beauty ( jstor )
Death ( jstor )
Earths Moon ( jstor )
Easter ( jstor )
Mothers ( jstor )
Otherness ( jstor )
Protagonists ( jstor )
Relational sociology ( jstor )
Subjectivity ( jstor )
Women ( jstor )
Women in literature ( lcsh )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1992.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 626-632).
General Note:
General Note:
Statement of Responsibility:
by Colleen Warren.

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University of Florida
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Copyright [name of dissertation author]. Permission granted to the University of Florida to digitize, archive and distribute this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.
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Full Text







This dissertation is dedicated to three men and three

relationships which are crucial to my own sense of self.

First, I dedicate this work to my new son Nathanael. Since

I dedicated my master's thesis to my daughter Kelsey, it

seemed appropriate that I should dedicate this second and

final endeavor to my second and final child. Secondly, this

dissertation is dedicated to my husband Jim, who was (and

will always be) an active father to our children while I

completed this degree and who gave me encouragement, love,

and, just as valuably, time while I wrote this paper. His

willingness to let me try out ideas on him, to talk through

sticking points, and to sympathize with my moods is a debt I

can never repay. Finally, and most importantly, I dedicate

this dissertation to Jesus Christ, for in him I live and

move and have my being. The process of writing this

dissertation has taught me that Christ is the author and the

finisher of far more than my faith (Hebrews 12:2).


I would like to express my appreciation to the members

of my committee for the many hours of work each invested in

reading and commenting on this very sizable dissertation.

Dr. Andrew Gordon has seen me through two degrees by serving

on both my master's and Ph.D. committees, and as always, I

thank him for his prompt but careful analysis of my work.

To Dr. Elizabeth Langland and Dr. Bertram Wyatt-Brown I

would also like to extend my appreciation. Both gave freely

of their time despite busy schedules. I am indebted to Dr.

Langland for challenging me to carefully think through my

own ideas of female identity and to Dr. Wyatt-Brown for

helping me place my work within the context of southern

history. I particularly want to thank Dr. David Leverenz,

who responded to my drafts in detail and with great

perception. His thoughtful critiques helped me to refine my

terms, to make connections between stories, and to strive

for greater excellence in succeeding drafts.

I would like to give special acknowledgement to my

dissertation director, Dr. Anne Goodwyn Jones. It is

difficult to express all that she has contributed to my

education and to my life beyond academia. Dr. Jones always

read my work thoughtfully, making many detailed and

insightful comments, notes which consistently prompted me to


consider different perspectives, to see flaws in my

arguments, and to think more broadly about the issues I

raised. Her marginalia was always motivating, inspiring me

to work for the occasional "good" written next to a passage

or the ever-elusive but thrilling "wow" (the equivalent to

Dr. Leverenz's "fine"). Throughout the whole process of

obtaining my degree, which spanned four and a half years,

Anne was a positive mentor, encouraging me when I had little

faith in myself, believing that I would one day finish, and

believing in my capabilities as a writer, a student, and a

teacher. She is a friend whom I will never forget.

Cynthia Karle spent hours helping me work with a faulty

(Tandy) computer to put my paper on computer, and additional

hours helping me print it out. She has proved to me that

the university is not just a system, but has people who

care. I am impressed with her expertise and extremely

grateful for her patience.

Finally, I would like to thank my family for their

patience and love. Thanks to my sister Teresa, who kept me

stocked with vitamins; to my sister Beth, for sending me job

listings; and to my mother June, whom I know prayed for me

daily and wrote encouraging letters from sunny Illinois. I

thank Kelsey (who wants to be a mommy when she grows up so

she can "make dinner and study") for sharing her mother as I

worked on my degree. She and Nathanael constantly reminded

me of my real priorities. It is to my husband Jim that I

owe my largest debt of gratitude, however. For his belief

and pride in me, his love and prayers for me, and his many

real sacrifices of time to enable me to finish this work, I

will be forever thankful.



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS.... ................................... iii

ABSTRACT..... ......... ................................. vii


1 INTRODUCTION ...................................... 1

Notes ............................................. 44


Notes ........................................... 134

3 THE MIRANDA STORIES ............................... 137

Notes............................................ 266

4 EUDORA WELTY'S SHORT STORIES ..................... 268

Notes ............................................. 420

5 EUDORA WELTY'S THE GOLDEN APPLES.................. 422

Notes ................. ........................... 595

6 CONCLUSION ......................................... 596

WORKS CITED............................................ 626

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.................................... 633

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Colleen Warren

August 1992

Chairperson: Anne Goodwyn Jones
Major Department: English

Both Katherine Anne Porter and Eudora Welty give

attention in their fiction to the question of female

identity, yet their conceptions of it differ dramatically.

Constancy and singularity, a "hard unwinking angry point of

light," characterize the "core" sense of identity Porter's

characters display or desire, their urge toward a unified

and static self. "Fluctuation of starlight," in its image

of changing constellations, better expresses the difficult

to define multiplicity of identity in Welty's characters,

their willingness to constantly add to and otherwise change

their identities. Porter's definition and Welty's

(non)definition radically determine the degree and quality

of their female protagonists' subjectivity, voice,

objectification, and relationality. Insistence upon

internal integration causes Porter's characters to limit


their subjectivity, conforming instead to ordered roles or

choosing passivity, both of which can provide stability and

predictability, though often at the expense of independence

and voice. Not surprisingly, such conventionality often

facilitates their objectification, a position from which

most of her female characters are unwilling or unable to

escape. Predictably, then, relationships are for Porter's

women often flawed or failed, enabling neither mutual

enrichment nor the unity and integration the characters hope

to gain through connection. Porter's vision, however, is by

no means entirely dismal; for in the last Miranda story she

allows Miranda heightened subjectivity, independent voice,

and positive relationality which her other female

protagonists achieve only imperfectly if at all. By

contrast, the plural sense of identity that Welty's female

characters possess allows change, an expansive and

unrestricted sense of self, and a fluidity which resists

boundaries and definitions, providing her women the freedom

to enunciate their subjectivity through rejecting

convention, acting autonomously, and exercising a strong

sense of voice. Because of their willfulness and personal

strength, Welty's women are rarely objectified, but instead

open themselves to otherness, which adds variety to their

relationships. Welty demonstrates through her female

protagonists that subjectivity and voice can survive and

grow within relationship, allowing women a full range of




Towards the end of Katherine Anne Porter's "Pale Horse,

Pale Rider," her heroine Miranda has a vision as she draws

near to death of a "hard unwinking angry point of light"

which she recognizes as her still-surviving identity, a

single, concentrated "fiercely burning particle of being

that knew itself alone, that relied upon nothing beyond

itself for its strength." This image, which also appears in

"The Jilting of Granny Weatherall" and "Holiday," is the

finest and most graphic representation of Porter's concept

of identity. As I will argue, Porter conceives of identity

as a core of being, a sort of essential self which, alone,

strives for integration, wholeness, and order. The

singularity of this identity--its need for cohesion and

consistency and its self-sufficiency--is suggested by the

solitary point of the light within, while its hardness and

unwinking quality indicate the solidity and stability of

that identity as well as its resistance to change.

Porter does not suggest that there is a single,

essential identity that all women as women share, nor does

she always identify a specific focus of her female

characters' identities, other than the need for order and

integration itself. In "He," for example, Mrs. Whipple's

core identity is shown to be centered around her maternity,

yet in "Flowering Judas" no particular focus for Laura's

identity is explicitly given. Without exception, however,

every one of Porter's female protagonists is driven by a

need for order and integration, a need to unify the

fragmented aspects of her life, to shape a stable, singular,

and coherent sense of self that resists change and rejects

all experience, relationship, and possibility which threaten

to disrupt identity's continuity and integration: this

drive forms and is itself the core identity of each of

Porter's female protagonists.

By contrast, the "fluctuation of starlight," a phrase

from the novel Delta Wedding, suggests Eudora Welty's quite

different conception of identity as multiplicitous:

infinitely variable, uncontained and wide-ranging, and

separate yet connected in constellations, as is starlight.

Welty's conception allows a fullness and variety to identity

that will even admit seeming contradictions--the coexistence

of "incompatibilities" such as individuality and

relationality, or self with other.

Several critics have recognized and praised the

multiplicity apparent in Welty's fiction in general and in

the identities of her women in particular. One of the

greatest pleasures that Robert Penn Warren received from

Welty's first collection of short stories was, he said, the

great variety it contained. Warren imagines Welty's


attitude in writing these stories as that of a person who is

"delighted not only with the variety of the world but with

the variety of ways in which one could look at the world and

the variety of things which stories could be and still be

stories" (246-47). Later in the same article, Warren

describes as most successful those stories in which the

natural world is depicted as layered, "one picture

superimposed upon another, different and yet somehow the

same" (257). This seems close to Daniele Pitavy-Souques'

recognition of an other, not wholly-retrievable world which

exists beneath the familiar in Welty's fiction ("Blazing

Butterfly" 552).

It is my contention that these layers, this

multiplicity of being, is most fully expressed in the

identities of Welty's female protagonists. Elaine Pugh also

sees this plurality as centered in female consciousness, and

describes women's ability in Welty's fiction to allow the

coexistence of opposites within themselves (437). Patricia

Yaeger, quoting Mary Jacobus, suggests that Welty explores

difference not as opposition but as multiplicity through her

female characters and through her texts themselves.

"'Difference is redefined, not as male versus female--not as

biologically constituted--but as a multiplicity, joyousness

and heterogeneity which is that of textuality itself'"

("Dialogic Imagination" 585). Andrea Goudie suggests in her

analysis of Welty's "Circe" that multiplicity is a capacity

given only to humans. Welty presents the goddess Circe as

possessing knowledge which is "expansive but unexpandable"

(485) and as being supernatural and powerful but incapable

of understanding the "multi-faceted affections" of humans

she encounters (483).

At least one critic is bothered by the plurality which

Welty's women are able to contain, the ease with which they

expand their identities through absorbing aspects of the

world around them, and their rejection of a necessarily

unified self. Revealing perhaps more about his own identity

needs than those of Virgie, Richard C. Moreland notes that

it is a "predicament" for Virgie that she doesn't receive a

"unifying vision" in a single moment at the close of "The

Wanderers" but "only" fragments of revelation (92).

Not all of Welty's female protagonists participate in

this multiplicity; nearly all of those who do not, however,

nevertheless are drawn to multiplicity's expansive

possibilities. Similarly, those who are portrayed as being

dissatisfied with themselves, or unfulfilled in their

"selves," experience such dissatisfaction or lack of

fulfillment because they refuse or otherwise are unable to

accept the full range of identity available to them. This

is the case both with Ellie Morgan of "The Key" and Cassie

Morrison of The Golden Apples. Because of the many

different forms it takes, its variant expressions in

individual identities, multiplicity resists the clear

definition that is central to Porter's conception of

identity. While Welty's female characters celebrate their

faceted and mutable identities, feeling that there is no

need to deny one identity, as Welty says, in order to adopt

another (Van Noppen 9), Porter's strive toward knowability

and stability.

This knowability and stability may be derived from and

invested in a phallogocentric culture and mindset which

insist on a "oneness" of identity, a singularity of form.

Toril Moi identifies the need for a unified self as an

element of "traditional bourgeois humanism" (6) which stems

from patriarchal ideology. Central to this ideology, Moi

argues, is a "seamlessly unified self--either individual or

collective--which is commonly called 'Man.' .. Gloriously

autonomous, it banishes from itself all conflict,

contradiction, and ambiguity" (8). Michael Foucault has

noted that this conception of "Man" as an "autonomous,

unified, and coherent individual" is only a two hundred-

year-old idea (Gardiner 115), yet despite its relative

newness, it is a pervasive part, according to Moi, of

Western male thought (7). Judith Kegan Gardiner suggests

that women "may feel that the old unified subject was never

a female subject" (115), yet Porter seems an exception. She

seems in her fiction not to dismantle this concept as an

inappropriate description of female identity, but rather to

uphold it and to show that women are equally driven by a

need for unity, singularity, and coherence of self.

Moi discusses several feminist critics who she believes

also "buy into" this model of identity. She scrutinizes

most closely the critical practice of Elaine Showalter, who

she believes is interested in encouraging the development of

women "as whole and harmonious human beings under

partriarchy" (6). In Moi's opinion, Showalter is bothered

by the "multiplicity of perspectives" and the "shifts and

changes of subject positions" in Virginia Woolf's works,

particularly in A Room of One's Own (2), and her refusal to

be limited to "one unifying angle of vision" (3). According

to Moi, Showalter's investment in bourgeois humanism is also

responsible for her criticism of Doris Lessing's works.

Showalter sees both Woolf and Lessing in Moi's opinion, as

rejectingn] the fundamental need for the individual to

adopt a unified, integrated self-identity" (7). Moi

suggests that Showalter shares Georg Lukacs' critical

position. (Showalter, Moi notes, quotes Lukacs in A

Literature of Their Own.) Lukacs too believed that

literature should portray "'man and society as complete

entities'" and that anything that divides "'the complete

human person'" leads to "'mutilation of the essence of man'"

(qtd. in Moi 5).

Other feminist critics whom Moi cites as expressing the

same patriarchal insistence on a unified, integrated self

are Patricia Stubbs, Marcia Holly, and Sandra Gilbert and

Susan Gubar. Stubbs, Moi points out, criticizes American

novels written between 1880 and 1920 for having no

"totalizing representation of both the private and the

working life of women" (5--emphasis mine). Marcia Holly, in

her desire for a "'noncontradictory perception of the

world'" (qtd. in Moi 10--emphasis mine), also seems to Moi

to share Stubbs' and Showalter's conception of identity.

Moi also believes that Gilbert and Gubar, in The Madwoman in

the Attic, work toward "a lost 'female' unity," citing as

evidence their concluding hope that "'if we can piece

together their [individual women writers'] fragments the

parts will form a whole that tells the story of a .

'mother of us all'" (qtd. in Moi 67).

Interestingly, New Criticism, in its effort to find a

unified whole through the analysis of literature--a result,

Moi claims, of the "patriarchal aesthetic values" which

permeate the approach (67)--also valorizes unity, wholeness,

and integration. Porter's works, not coincidentally, have

long been hailed as receptive to New Critical strategies and

as being exemplary of formalist values.

This notion of a unified self has its origin in the

singularity of the phallus, a "whole, unitary and simple

form, as opposed to the terrifying chaos of the female

genitals" (Moi 67). The psychoanalysis which Freud

developed reiterates, of course, this same "opposition,"

positing male anatomy, sexuality, and identity makeup as

ideal standards. Though Moi sees psychoanalysis as

recognizing that there are multiple parts to the self and as

emphasizing conflicting drives and the often oppositional

struggling of the conscious and unconscious (9), I am more

in agreement with Annette Kolodny's view of psychoanalysis

as having an "'internal consistency as a system'" (qtd. in

Moi 74). Gardiner also notes that psychoanalysis assumes

that minds are unchanging, that psychoanalytic laws are

"permanent and timeless" (120). Both critics' comments

point out that psychoanalysis is rooted in a belief that the

mind is essential and ahistorical, that one mind (or "case")

can be representative of all others, and that the aim of

psychoanalysis is to produce (or re-produce) an unfragmented


For though it is true that Freud "split" the mind into

parts--the id, ego, and superego--it is equally true that he

stressed the continual effort of the ego to unify the whole

person. "In relation to identity," Norman Holland writes,

"the most important thing the ego does is unify. 'The ego

is an organization characterized by a very remarkable trend

towards unification, toward synthesis,' said Freud, and

Hermann Nunberg summed up this unifying force in his classic

phrase, 'the synthetic function of the ego'" (343). The

ego's function, Holland goes on to say, is to bring together

forces that may not seem ideal to an outsider but is the

"best possible balance" for an individual identity (344).

Other psychoanalysts have elaborated on what they see

as identity's basic drive towards unity and immutability.

Erik Erikson, for example, believed that though identity

grows over a lifetime, it "consolidates" in adolescence

(Gardiner 126). Even in its lifetime of growth, however,

identity, to Erikson, demonstrates continuity and

predictability (Holland 349). In fact, Erikson defined

identity (as Holland words it) as an "inner sense of

continuity and coherence" (349). Similarly, Heinz Hartman

believed that there is a consistent pattern of identity even

when behavior is mutable and unpredictable (Holland 349).

Holland himself, with his theory of identity as a "theme and

variations," borrowed from Donald Winnicott and Heinz

Lichtenstein, seems convinced of the essential immutability

of identity, though he allows for "variations" of this core

self. As Gardiner points out, Holland's conception of

identity also stresses unification (127).

Porter seems not to challenge the applicability of this

unified conception of self for female identity; rather, she

appropriated it both for herself (as will be shown in the

conclusion) and for her female protagonists, showing them

all as striving toward a singular, non-contradictory sense

of self.

Welty's theory of identity, by contrast, has a

counterpart in some of the more recent French feminist

thinking, particularly in Helene Cixous' and Luce Irigaray's

theories of feminine identity. These critics seek to

fragment the unified self upon which Porter's characters

rely so heavily. Irigaray, in This Sex Which Is Not One,


Thus a woman's (re)discovery of herself can only
signify the possibility of not sacrificing any of
her pleasures to another, of not identifying with
anyone in particular, of never being simply one.
It is a sort of universe in expansion for which no
limits could be fixed and which, for all that,
would not be incoherency.

Women, Irigaray claims, achieve a fullness of identity

for themselves when they refuse boundaries to their

"selves," when they cease believing that the inclusion of

disparate elements and experiences in their identities will

result in chaos and Babel. In the (re) of the discovery

Irigaray writes of can be found the key to this

multiplicity: woman continually changes, adds to herself

identities and identifications, yet never discovers

"herself" finally or always rediscovers what has already

been discovered. For the process of discovery, of

internally knowing, also continues, shifts, changes. Cixous

refers to this all-inclusiveness as a sort of "bisexuality,"

denoting not necessarily a sexual preference, but a refusal

to limit oneself to culturally-defined roles and

expectations for a single sex, for example. This capacity

"doesn't annul differences but stirs them up, pursues them,

increases their number" (NFF 254).

While this ability is not limited to women, Cixous

suggests that it is less difficult for them; men, Cixous

states, more often insist on singularity and uniformity of

being. This is borne out in Welty's short fiction: women

more often than men participate in multiplicity, yet some

male figures also have access to multiplicity's potential.

Loch Morrison is perhaps the most developed of these men,

though King MacLain and his sons, and even Fate Rainey, are

shown to possess a certain expansiveness of identity. Even

so, rarely are men in Welty's fiction given the full range

of identity her women are allowed. King MacLain's mythology

is comically deconstructed, reducing him from heroic stature

and omnipotence and exposing the phallus(y) of his

masculinity. He and his sons instead become examples of a

"ruined Southern patriarchy," controlled by their wives

(Westling, Welty 147). Carol Manning does not deny the

mythic qualities of Welty's men, yet argues that the

mythology often results in a corporate identity, with father

and son legends intertwined. With this structure, the

individual becomes a group and the "mythic concept" is all

that exists, not the person (Morning Glories 127).

Likewise, although Loch is credited with a spaciousness of

identity, he is given no authority or power as concomitant

to that identity. By contrast, both the men and the women


of Porter's short fiction, with few exceptions, determinedly

attempt to maintain a singular self, a unified and

integrated identity: perhaps Granny Weatherall is one of

the best exemplars of this type.

Such all-inclusiveness as Welty's admits elements to

the self which may appear incompatible or contradictory.

Irigaray argues, however, that these elements are only truly

contradictory if they are defined using conventional,

masculine logic. "'She' is infinitely other in herself.

That is undoubtedly the reason she is called temperamental,

incomprehensible, perturbed, capricious Contradictory

words seem a little crazy to the logic of reason, and

inaudible for him who listens with ready-made grids, a code

prepared in advance" (NFF 103).

Cixous also celebrates woman's capacity for

multiplicity and argues against a necessary "wholeness" to


If she is a whole, it's a whole composed of parts
that are wholes, not simple partial objects but a
moving, limitlessly changing ensemble, a cosmos
tirelessly traversed an immense astral space
not organized around any one sun that's any more
of a star than the others (NFF 259).

It is not surprising that Cixous uses here the same

star imagery which Welty uses recurrently in her texts,

perhaps most apparently in "Moon Lake," where she embodies

plural identity as a "beast in gossamer," the star-flecked

night sky. Another, similar image used in the same text,

however, points out an important difference between Cixous'


use of star imagery and Welty's: Welty's "stars" come "down

to earth" in the form of fireflies, winking off and on.

Whereas Cixous represents woman's multiplicity as cosmic and

as a somewhat steady state, Welty's firefly image

illustrates that her version is more local, concrete, and

fluctuating. Yet through the image and, more directly,

through multiplicity itself, Welty's female protagonists can

find "not [their] sum but [their] differences" (NFF 264).

At another point in the same text, her intriguing and

suggestive "The Laugh of the Medusa," Cixous uses different

imagery to describe her vision of multiplicity, and again,

it is imagery which Welty uses extensively in association

with female identity.

But look, our seas are what we make of them, full
of fish or not, opaque or transparent, red or
black, high or smooth, narrow or bankless; and we
are ourselves sea, sand, coral, seaweed, beaches,
tides, swimmers, children, waves More or
less wavily sea, earth, sky--what matter would
rebuff us? We know how to speak them all. (NFF

Transparency is used to describe Virgie Rainey's openness

towards the end of "The Wanderers," and sea or water is one

of Welty's most frequent images of female fullness and

expansiveness, as "The Winds" and "Moon Lake" illustrate.

In short, a woman in Welty's fiction, as Cixous phrases it,

"doesn't defend herself against these unknown women whom

she's surprised at becoming, but derives pleasure from this

gift of alterability" (NFF 260). She is

the woman arriving over and over again [who] does
not stand still; she's everywhere she comes

in, comes-in-between herself me and you, between
the other me where one is always infinitely more
than one and more than me, without the fear of
ever reaching a limit; she thrills in our
becoming. (NFF 263-64)

Certainly these quotations describe Nina, who in "Moon Lake"

wistfully wonders what it would be like to exchange

identities, to defy even boundaries of race, gender, and

class to "slip into them all--to change. To change for a

moment into Gertrude, into Twosie--into a boy. To have been

an orphan."' It also describes Clytie, who tirelessly

searches for her self in the endless faces she sees in the

streets, and who eventually retrieves an identity which has

always been part of and more than her self: same and yet

other,self-contradictory, full, deep, and limitless.

Particularly with reference to the images Welty (and

Cixous) associate with female identity, Claudine Herrmann,

another French feminist, contributes some valuable insight.

Welty, for example, consistently connects boundary-less

expanses with her fictional women, as a representation of

their limitless plurality of identity. The lake and the

night sky in "Moon Lake," the image of the ocean in "The

Winds," and the open fields, endless woods, and ever-winding

Natchez Trace in "Livvie" are all examples of her metaphoric

use of space. Louise Westling also notes Welty's

association between open space and female identity (Sacred

Groves 179). Herrmann points out that women's space is also

often empty, uncluttered by the signs of possession or


hierarchy that fill "man's space." Herrmann's theory echoes

Ellen Moers' statement that "open areas provide the locale

for women's self-assertion" (qtd. in Sacred Groves 180).

Woman, Herrmann argues, "has long since learned to respect

not only the physical and mental space of others, but space

for its own sake, empty space. [S]he must conserve

some space for herself, a sort of no man's land" (NFF 169--

emphasis in original). The Big Black River in which Virgie

swims, naked and alone, surely is such a region. Moon Lake

is a similar limitless country for Easter.

Herrmann also connects women's urge to travel with

their desire to add to themselves, to multiply their

identities by experiencing a fuller range of possibilities,

by wandering beyond themselves.

Women today have displayed a remarkable appetite
for travel. Usually they are not motivated by a
taste for conquest but rather by the desire
to know other human beings, other customs and
climates--and although they do not admit it, they
want to fight against time, to multiply
perspectives and comparisons and to draw into life
itself, into their most intimate self, that
composition and architecture of the world
(NFF 171)

Virgie Rainey is Welty's most wide-ranging wanderer in

spirit, and, at the end of "The Wanderers," in actuality as

well. However, nearly all Welty's women are moved to expand

their identities through travel: Sara Morton dreams of her

yearly trips to festive Dexter, Ellie Morgan plans a trip to

Niagara Falls, Clytie escapes the confines of her ancestral

home to the streets of town, Livvie discovers the woods and

open fields, Ruby in "A Piece of News" travels the country

roads, Jenny in "At The Landing" walks to the river, Dicey

in "Kin" rediscovers multiplicity through a journey to her

great-uncle's home, Josie of "The Winds" imagines a sea

voyage, and Mrs. Larkin's enclosing hedge is parted by the

rain which falls upon her and her garden.

Porter, except for carefully chosen and, until the

final story, isolated moments in the Miranda stories, offers

no expansive areas or opportunities to discover them to her

protagonists. Instead, the space her female characters

inhabit more closely fits the description of what Herrmann

calls "man's space": "Physical or mental, man's space is a

space of domination, hierarchy and conquest, a sprawling,

showy space, a full space" (NFF 169). Thus, in "Rope" the

unnamed woman struggles to preserve a clear space for

herself, uncluttered by her husband's rope and other

paraphernalia; when he nevertheless returns from town with

the rope and she then accepts the rope's presence, the

implication is that her effort fails. Similarly, Granny

Weatherall's home is filled with carefully arranged and

ordered mantle-clocks, spice jars, brushes and combs, and

the not-so-orderly boxes of letters in her attic; the only

outdoor space mentioned is the one hundred acres which she

herself fenced in. Surely the brothel in "Magic" is a

supreme example of "man's space": the house exists for his


pleasure, is strictly ordered by hierarchy and conquest, and

is "full" of the women who are the objects of his conquest.

Another aspect which Herrmann considers is time. This

too is connected with Welty's depiction of plural identity

through the possibility of change and mutability that time

can allow. This as a possibility for female identity is,

according to Herrmann, a power traditionally reserved for

men: "[m]asculine system has until now required women to

assume material continuity--of daily life and of the

species--while men assume the function of discontinuity,

discovery, change in all its forms" (NFF 172). Most of

Porter's female characters do, in fact, remain in this

condition of stasis. Time ticks off endlessly for Ninette

in "Magic." She has no hope of ever escaping the confines

of time or situation. Moreover, many of them explicitly

refuse opportunity for change, seeking to maintain their

inward unity and integration through a preserved continuity

of time and condition. Laura of "Flowering Judas," for

example, feels trapped in time and space, yet makes no

effort to extricate herself from her stasis. A similar

passivity in the woman of "Theft" causes her to perpetuate

her stagnation and further her sense of helplessness. Maria

Concepcion clings to the timeless security of her church

marriage to Juan. Though their marriage is interrupted by

Juan's year-long absence and dramatic changes, Maria

Concepcion splices together the pieces and preserves life

"as it was."

Conversely, Welty's female characters usually seek

change. "In order to recuperate [the ability for change and

discovery]," Herrmann writes, "woman must provide another

division of time and space, refusing their continuity,

fragmenting them into moments and places that are not linked

together, in such a way that each is a sort of innovation"

(NFF 172). Thus Livvie's transition into her new life with

Cash is represented by her releasing her dead husband's

watch, letting it fly out of the orbit created by Cash's

spinning of her body. The metaphor Herrmann uses to

continue her description of woman's necessary and new

relation to time and space--"her life .resembles an

archipelago, a series of little islands that point toward an

uncharted sea and that the waves conceal and reveal at whim"

(NFF 172)--is nearly identical to the imagery Welty uses in

"The Winds" when Josie, moved alone by an equinoctial storm,

begins a voyage toward an uncharted sea.

Katherine Anne Porter's conception of core identity,

then, is a self which strives for integration and

definition, resists change, and maintains a singularity and

centrality of focus. Eudora Welty, on the other hand,

conceives of identity as multiplicitous--a self which defies

definition or restriction, allows the coexistence of

contradictions, and celebrates a fluid, expansive range of


possibilities. These basic qualities form the matrices for

each author's differing conception of identity. Within

these matrices, however, there is an interplay of other,

more specific aspects which contributes to identity's

composition. The elements of this interplay I will consider

are subjectivity, objectification, relationality, and voice.

These aspects are so interrelated that it is difficult to

speak of one without involving another.

Subjectivity, as its root suggests, involves the

ability to be a subject as distinguished from an object, and

assumes the "possession" of those "qualities" which would

enable such a position. Thus subjectivity can embrace

independence, autonomy, individuality, self-esteem,

creativity, and voice. Objectification can be and often is

characterized by dependence, passivity, conformity, low

self-esteem, and silence. In a logocentric society, Helene

Cixous writes, the positions of subject and object are

bifurcated, with gender as "the" most basic bifurcation.

Logocentrism subjects thought--all of the
concepts, the codes, the values--to a two-term
system, related to 'the' couple man/woman[.] .
Woman is always on the side of passivity. A
will: desire, authority, you examine that, and
you are led right back--to the father. .
Either the woman is passive; or she doesn't exist.
(NFF 91, 92)

Thus for women, subjectivity is often elusive and difficult

to attain, as Simone de Beauvoir points out:

In woman there is from the beginning a
conflict between her autonomous existence and her
objective self, her 'being-the-other'; she is
taught that to please she must try to please, she

must make herself object; she should therefore
renounce her autonomy for the less she
exercises her freedom to understand, to grasp and
discover the world about her, the less [sic]
resources will she find within herself, the less
will she dare to affirm herself as subject. (qtd.
in Kreyling, 629)

Such insistent objectification is, of course, incredibly

reductive and damaging to woman's identity.

Yet it is, of course, impossible for either sex to

entirely avoid objectification; in any relationship with

another, we are at times the one who is observed, the object

of another's gaze, of another's affection, hatred,

prejudice, respect, and so on. Michael Kreyling cites

Margaret Wimsatt's belief that a woman must be both subject

and object in order to write, a statement which acknowledges

the possible and even profitable coexistence of both

positions and perspectives within a single identity (628).

By extension, a fullness of identity comes not from denying

one's position as an object or the existence of one's self

as "other," but from not allowing subjectivity to be

silenced by a too-pronounced objectification. Relationship

need not involve a constrictive, passive objectification, in

other words; experiencing the self as an object can in fact

enrich identity, if that perspective is used to comprehend

one's own position as a subject, or another's position as


The women in Porter's short fiction are unable to

express a strong subjectivity. Passivity and

objectification seem the almost inescapable and inevitable

fates of the majority of her protagonists. Jane Flanders

agrees, stating that Porter's women are damaged by the

repressive nature of man's laws and particularly by their

sexual repression (49). Ninette's assertion in "Magic" is

squelched, and she remains an object of exchange in the

brothel. Virgin Violeta is forced to exchange her romantic

vision of herself as a woman for what is presented as the

"truth" of woman's inevitable position as object of man's

desire. For both of these women, objectification disorders

and fragments their sense of themselves. The unnamed woman

in "Theft" and Laura of "Flowering Judas" actually cultivate

their passivity and objectification. Maria Concepcion

aggressively murders her husband's mistress, but only to

restore her "right" relationship to her husband. Thus,

objectification for these women is considered a means of

providing order and continuity to their identities; only for

Maria Concepcion, however, is this goal accomplished.

Sophia Jane and her daughter Amy of "Old Mortality" are

somewhat more successful in avoiding objectification. In

varying degrees, both use their subjectivity to order and

integrate their identities. Amy, however, asserts her

subjectivity largely within her highly-objectified role as

southern belle, and Sophia Jane compromises her subjectivity

by continuing to believe in the value of the same southern

conventions and codes for a southern lady that she has

mostly abandoned for herself. These latter two, however,

along with Nannie, Great-Aunt Eliza, and Eva are proof

enough that Margaret Bolsterli's claim--that Porter's

characters can "neither take their lives into their own

hands nor achieve self-realization outside the roles society

had chosen for them" ("'Bound' Characters" 95)--is too

sweeping, too dismissive of the rebellions some--if few--of

Porter's female protagonists accomplish.

It is one of Welty's greatest accomplishments that she

dissolves the oppositional positioning--though not the

positions themselves--usually associated with subject/object

and demonstrates that independence can survive within

relation, that need and dependence are not in opposition to

independence but can in fact strengthen personal independent

identity. Louise Westling's observation that Welty's female

characters have a mutual gaze, with no bifurcation into

subject and object with one in submission, confirms the

ability of Welty's women to participate in both positions in

an energy of exchange (Welty 38).

Welty, I think, gives her female characters an

awareness of themselves as objects, yet allows most of them

space and freedom to resist the potential limitation of that

position. Clytie, for example, acquiesces in some respects

to her family's consideration of her as a servant, a person

who exists solely to meet their needs. She, however, does

not represent herself as an object, but as a seeking subject


who lives apart from their demands and who, through her own

subjective act, ultimately retrieves a self that is hers

alone. Both Snowdie MacLain and Mattie Will Holifield also

maintain their subjectivity, though both are, to King

MacLain, little more than sexual objects. Snowdie takes

pleasure in her husband's absences and develops a life

independent of his "visits." Mattie Will willfully engages

in sex with MacLain to satisfy her own curiosity and sexual


The strong subjectivity--independence, individuality,

assertiveness--with which Welty endows her fictional women,

then, enables them to resist the negative consequences of

objectification. Nor are Welty's portrayals of women as

strong and autonomous limited to her fiction, as Louise

Westling points out; the photographs Welty took while

working with the WPA also emphasize women's strength.

Several pictures are of women--many of them black--standing

alone, self-assured and possessing a "spiritual strength"

which is conveyed through their stance, gesture, or

expression ("Loving Observer" 599). Many others depict

women as part of a family or community, and in these too,

the women's retained subjectivity within relationship is

apparent (598).

Jennifer Randisi and Ruth Weston also see Welty's

female characters as exercising a pronounced subjectivity.

Randisi notes that in Welty's fiction, women are the ones

who record stories, whereas men are frequently the objects

of their stories (90). Weston calls Welty's works

"feminocentric," pointing out that it is women's point of

view that is stressed, and women who control and create in

Welty's fiction (74). Louise Westling makes a nearly

identical observation, pointing out the centrality of women

in Welty's texts and the prevalence of their point-of-view,

to such an extent that in many cases the only presentation

given of a male is through a woman's gaze (Welty 43, 32).

At least one critic does not concur with this

assessment; the same claim that Margaret Bolsterli makes

regarding Porter she also applies to Welty: Welty's

characters are also "bound." In another article, she

reiterates her argument, stating that there are no women in

Welty's fiction "doing society-defying acts to free

themselves for self-realization" ("Woman's Vision" 149).

Such a statement seems to ignore the crowd of women in

Welty's fiction who possess a subjectivity powerful enough

to defy tradition and expectations and to maintain that

strength in the face of opposition. Clytie, Easter, Miss

Eckhart, and of course Virgie are some of these women.

Objectification occurs only within relationship; it is

therefore impossible to discuss the former without

considering the latter. Relationality, as I use the term,

includes but is not limited to male/female connection; it

refers to any interaction between two or more individuals

regardless of gender, irrespective of the quality or

duration of that connection. Given the prevalence of their

objectification, it is perhaps not surprising that Porter's

female characters are rarely involved in enriching

relationships--ones which allow their subjectivity

expression, which sustain them emotionally, or which provide

them with a sense of order and stability, which is an

essential identity need for Porter's women. Jean Baker

Miller notes that "the ego, the I of psychoanalysis, may not

be at all appropriate in relation to women," pointing out

women's tendency to form their identities through connection

(qtd. in Abel, et al. 10). Though this is true of Welty's

protagonists, it seems not to be the case for Porter's:

relationship for them often disintegrates rather than builds

a unified sense of self.

Jane Flanders argues, in fact, that family, marriage,

and love are dangers to the freedom of Porter's protagonists

(49). It is true that nearly all of the women to whom

Porter accords subjectivity refuse or have no ties with men:

Eliza, Eva, and Nannie are examples. Sophia Jane provides

an exception in her ability to demonstrate her strong will

at isolated moments within her marriage and thus creates her

own order. This she does, however, despite her marriage:

with the exception of Miranda, relationality does not enable

subjectivity for Porter's women. The women of "Theft" and

"Flowering Judas," as has already been mentioned, become


involved in relationships which accomplish exactly opposite

ends: their relationships intensify their objectification,

provide no emotional strength, and encourage stasis and

stagnation rather than growth.

What is unsettling about the relationships in Porter's

fiction is that if and when they provide order, they often

do so at the cost of the woman's subjectivity, as in "Rope,"

"Maria Concepcion," and "Old Mortality," as illustrated by

Amy's life; equally disturbing is the tendency of

relationality to fail in providing the order the women seek.

Virgin Violeta is disillusioned in her belief that romantic

love can provide integration, maternity proves to be

unstable as a core for Mrs. Whipple's identity in "He" as

marriage is for the woman in "Rope," and neither marriage

nor maternity adequately provide the order for which Granny

Weatherall strives. Rosaleen's marriage in "The Cracked

Looking-Glass" may be somewhat more successful in providing

integration and allowing subjectivity, however. Her story

points towards the handful of more affirmative--yet not

entirely unflawed--relationships in the Miranda series.

Some of these more positive relationships are Sophia Jane's

and Nannie's friendship, Sophia Jane's connection with her

family, and Miranda's relationships with Sophia Jane, Great-

Aunt Eliza (in "The Old Order" and "Old Mortality"), Adam

(in "Pale Horse, Pale Rider"), and Otillie (in "Holiday").

Though Porter does, then, show her characters as having


order and integration as their core identity need, as Freud

similarly described the function of the ego, she does not

often regard love as the best means of achieving that

reconciliation, as did Freud (Holland 347).

Relationality often enables the freest expression of

multiplicity in Eudora Welty's female characters. This is

primarily due to Welty's conception of relationship as an

openness to otherness, an opportunity to add to personal

identity an other identity, with its separate character,

experiences, values, and possibilities. Welty's female

characters are able to express their subjectivity within

relationships, measuring their strength of self not through

their degree of separateness but through their

connectedness. In fact, Louise Westling shows that Welty's

female heroines develop their identities in part through

nurturance, a process which radically differs from the

traditional male conquering quest which strives toward

singularity of self (Welty 62-63).

Critics from the beginning of Welty's writing career

have noted the value Welty places upon relationship.

Writing in 1944 in reference to the publication of Welty's

first short story collection, A Curtain of Green, Robert

Penn Warren remarked on the number of Welty stories which

deal with alienated people who struggle toward connection

(249-51). Sally Wolff, writing in 1983 after Welty's most

productive years, comments on the consistency of her

interest in relationality: of her forty-five stories and

five novels, only five do not deal with love or the effects

of its absence (4). In an interview, Welty affirmed her

belief in "private human relations" as the foundation for

understanding (Devlin and Prenshaw 449) and in another,

describing Laurel's relationship with her parents in The

Optimist's Daughter, emphasized the strength available from

relationship, the interchange of giving that is possible

from connection (Van Noppen 9).

Robert H. Brinkmeyer perhaps best assesses the fullness

of Welty's regard for relationality and its connection with

the multiplicity of identity I associate with Welty's female

characters. Quoting Welty's comment that the subject of her

writing is "'You and me, here,'" Brinkmeyer stresses Welty's

interest in individual growth and relationship, rooted in

place, that that phrase implies ("Openness" 70). Arguing

that in Welty's fiction relationship keeps her characters

from possessing a limited perspective (73), Brinkmeyer uses

Mikhail Bakhtin's term, "dialogic," to describe the

relationships in Welty's fiction as involving and nurturing

the self while opening up that self to otherness (74). "For

growth and discovery one must not see oneself as whole and

finalized, but must instead accept that the self in its

dialogic existence with others is always in a state of flux"

(74). Brinkmeyer's own term for this dialectic is

"neighborhoods of self" (73), a phrase which stresses both


the relationality of identity and its multiplicity but which

perhaps ignores much of the tension and struggle that Welty

shows is an inevitable part of the process.

Helene Cixous speaks of this same capacity and desire

in "The Laugh of the Medusa": "I do desire the other for

the other, whole and entire, male or female; because living

means wanting everything that is, everything that lives, and

wanting it alive" (NFF 262). Both Welty's and Cixous'

desire is for the otherness of the other--"the other for the

other"--and thus they work to keep the differences "alive."

The same dynamic of exchange and augmentation is described

more fully in this passage from Cixous:

[She] wants] the two, as well as both, the
ensemble of the one and the other, not fixed in
sequences of struggle and expulsion or some other
form of death but infinitely dynamized by an
incessant process of exchange from one subject to
another. A process of different subjects knowing
one another and beginning one another anew only
from the living boundaries of the other: a
multiple and inexhaustible course with millions of
encounters and transformations of the same into
the other and into the in-between, from which
woman takes her forms. (NFF 254)

Though Welty's presentation of this self/other exchange

is not so grandiose or dramatic as Cixous portrays it as

being, still, differences multiply the identities of Welty's

fictional women. There is rarely an effort to mold otherness

into a compatibility with their personal identities as

Porter's women sometimes feel compelled to do to achieve

integration. Mrs. Whipple, for example, in Porter's "He,"

refuses to see her mistreatment of He as cruelty, since such

behavior is disturbingly foreign to her unified view of

herself as a loving mother. Thus, she twists her cruelties

into being evidences of her nurturance and care. Rosaleen

conforms all her relationships into a sameness compatible

with her sense of self as a young and desirable woman. She

strives to see Dennis not as an elderly husband but as a

dashing young waiter; Kevin is not a hired hand and Hugh is

not a street-wise punk, but both are potential lovers or

"sons." Most dramatically, Maria Concepcion literally kills

the Other who shatters her integrated identity.

The girl in Welty's "A Memory," however, abandons her

effort to integrate, finally allowing the disorderly family

she observes to augment and alter her dreamed-of

relationship with her friend. Nina is drawn to Easter's

otherness in "Moon Lake" and will not diminish her

differences or reshape them into sameness, but struggles to

add that otherness to her self. Though it takes her thirty

years, Virgie too can finally accept Miss Eckhart's

differences and her own conflicting feelings towards her,

using her reformulation of their relationship to expand her

inclusiveness of otherness.

Otherness within does not fragment the identities of

Welty's fictional women, however, because most are able to

experience the differences gained from another as a part of

themselves. As Luce Irigaray points out, this is not a

stripping of the other, nor a possession of it, but a


sharing in it, a nearness to it. There is no subtraction in

this relationship, or division, but multiplication: it is,

as Cixous also acknowledges, "the exchange that multiplies"

(NFF 264).

Woman would always remain multiple, but she would
be protected from dispersion because the other is
a part of her That does not mean that she
would appropriate the other for herself, that she
would make it her property. Property and
propriety are undoubtedly rather foreign to all
that is female. Nearness, however, is not
foreign to woman, a nearness so close that any
identification of one or the other, and therefore
any form of property, is impossible. Woman enjoys
a closeness with the other that is so near she
cannot possess it, any more than she can possess
herself. (NFF 105--emphases in original)

It should be mentioned that though relationality

provides a rich locus for the other, it is not the only

source or expression of this diversity, as will later be

shown. Welty's female protagonists open themselves to

otherness through their own creativity, as Ruby does in "A

Piece of News" when she draws an "other" Ruby Hill mentioned

in a newspaper account into her self; through their dreams

and desires, as Ellie Morgan ("The Key") does in her vision

of Niagara Falls and Sara Morton ("The Whistle") does in her

memories of Dexter; and through the strength of their own

subjectivity, as Easter does in "Moon Lake," immersing

herself in the otherness of the lake without losing her self

in it. Cixous acknowledges the creative capacity of an

openness to otherness when she writes that "there is no

invention possible without there being in the

inventing subject an abundance of the other, of variety:

separate-people, thought-/people, whole populations issuing

from the unconscious, and in each suddenly animated desert,

the springing up of selves one didn't know" (Cixous and

Clement 84). Though Cixous might imagine this openness as a

universal characteristic of all creative people, Porter's

own practice does not seem to bear out the truth of that


A final element which is at issue in Porter's and

Welty's different conceptions of identity is voice. By

voice I refer to communication and expression, usually

verbal but sometimes nonverbal. In my usage of the term,

voice affirms identity, reflects identity, and communicates

identity to another or to one's self. Though I see voice as

an aspect of subjectivity, I discuss it separately here as a

final point for two reasons. First, voice--or its lack--

plays a part in all three of the issues previously

mentioned. Voice is the primary means through which an

inwardly possessed subjectivity is given outward expression.

Almost inevitably, objectification is intensified by the

silence of the one posing as object. And, in both Welty's

and Porter's fiction, relationality and subjectivity are

more enhanced by voice than by any other single element.

Secondly, voice--along with relationality--seems to me to be

the greatest factor which draws Porter's vision of female

identity closer to Eudora Welty's conception of multiplicity

in her final two Miranda stories, "Pale Horse, Pale Rider"

and "Holiday."

Porter's protagonists are characterized more by their

silence than by their expressiveness. In many cases the

degree of their silence is directly proportional to their

level of objectification, yet, ironically, it is through

their objectification and silence that they try to give

order to their identities. Thus, the woman of "Theft" lets

other, male voices override or take precedence over her own,

while Laura ("Flowering Judas") deliberately suppresses her

voice out of fear and cultivated passivity. Both seem to

regard their positions as silent objects as safe, well-

defined, and orderly, whereas to express themselves as

subjects would involve effort and risk. Maria Concepcion is

referred to as a "quiet" woman, and it is, in fact, her

willingness to let Juan speak for her that enables her

identity's restoration. At times, even when a character's

voice is pronounced, Porter does not seem to regard it as a

particularly enriching element of her identity, but only

sustaining at best. Mrs. Whipple in "He" uses speech and

language to bolster the problematic construction of herself

as maternal, yet Porter graphically reveals the hypocrisy

and cruelty of her words; likewise, the woman of "Rope" is

garrulous, but her voice is shown to survive only in a

destructive, rigidly structured cycle of argument.

Though in "The Cracked Looking-Glass" Porter

experimented with some of the more positive attributes of

voice, only in her characterization of Miranda do these

receive full enunciation. Largely muted in the earlier

Miranda stories, Miranda's voice grows in strength until in

"Pale Horse, Pale Rider" it becomes a crucial integrative

force, a determined and even defiant assertion of identity's

continued existence, and audible proof of her subjectivity.

In "Holiday," ironically, Miranda's voice gains depth and

power through her relationship with a mute woman. This

relationship, and the voices exchanged within it, make

possible a new range for Miranda's identity--a plurality

which disperses Miranda's earlier "fiercely burning particle

of being that knew itself alone" (310) into a shimmering

constellation of connectedness and personal power.

This is not to suggest, of course, that Miranda and

Virgie, Welty's most self-realized character, are identical

in their responses and identities. Virgie, for example, is

more rebellious and less conventional in the direction her

life takes than is Miranda. Miranda perhaps distances

herself less from relationship than Virgie. Yet both rely

very little on societal constructions of the self, depending

instead on their inwardly-felt sense of identity, and both

continually enlarge their selves: for Virgie, as an

extension of a life-long process; for Miranda, as a

beginning of a new way of seeing her self.

This image reflects Helene Cixous' attitude toward

voice, for Cixous also sees it as expressing woman's

multiplicitous identity. "She [woman] lets the other

language speak--the language of 1,000 tongues which knows

neither enclosure nor death. To life she refuses nothing.

Her language does not contain, it carries; it does not hold

back, it makes possible" (NFF 260). As this quotation makes

clear, Cixous believes voice to be nonrestricted and

expansive; it expresses otherness and resists closure. In

other words, voice both expresses and is an expression of

multiplicity, the fullness of identity which Miranda finally

achieves in "Holiday" and which Welty's women possess


In Welty's female characters, voice is usually quite

pronounced. Rarely are her fictional women silent; instead,

they possess and use language creatively, in the tradition

of the "mother tongue" (Westling, Welty 39; Gilbert and

Gubar, War of the Words 252). When voice is muted, silence

is at least partially responsible for the women's inability

to achieve a full multiplicity of identity. Carol Manning

also notes that identity is connected with voice in Welty's

fiction, with silence emphasized by contrast with language

use (Morning Glories 48). This is, for example, the case in

"The Key," in which Ellie Morgan is a deaf-mute, unable and

unwilling to communicate fully with the stranger who could

introduce her to more expansive possibilities for her

identity, and in "The Whistle," where only two words of

dialogue are spoken. In "At The Landing," Jenny struggles

to articulate her feelings to Billy Floyd, who to her

embodies multiplicity; her inability to communicate her

needs to him is one reason multiplicity eludes her and one

cause for her ruin at the end of the story. By contrast, it

is implied that Mrs. Larkin retrieves her voice when the

rain which falls on her parts her lips and opens her

identity to fuller possibilities. Both Dicey of "Kin" and

Katie of The Golden Apples demonstrate their subjectivity

and enable their identities' expansion through their strong,

assertive voices.

Welty defines voice in much the same way that Belenky

et. al do--voice implies not only the ability to use

language for expression, but is a means of connecting

subject and object, of encouraging relationality and

expressing point of view (18). This feminocentric view of

voice differs from a traditional patriarchal view, which

values monologic voice as an assertion of individual power

and "truth," not point of view. Manning recognizes Welty's

own and her characters' storytelling as encouraging

relationality. Quoting Welty's own evaluation of southern

storytelling ("Conversation in the South is different. It

is not hurled stones, as in New York, but moonshine passed

slowly to all who care to lift the bottle"), Manning points

out Welty's regard of language and voice as communal and

nourishing rather than as disruptive or violent (27).

Cixous' image of the personal and relational quality of

voice for women meshes nicely with this assessment, and adds

to it the idea of multiple voices, a concept which blends

well with Welty's sense of the plurality of identity, with

voice being a valuable attribute of that identity:

Her speech, even when 'theoretical' or political,
is never simple or linear or 'objectified,'
generalized: she draws her story into history.
S. Why this privileged relationship with the
voice? Because no woman stockpiles as many
defenses for countering the drives as does a man.
You don't build walls around yourself. There
always remains in woman that force which
produces/is produced by the other. (NFF 251-52)

To Manning, Welty's emphasis on the act of speech itself (as

is evident, for example, in her allowing several versions of

the same tale, told by different characters) valorizes voice

and highlights the individual identities of the storytellers

(Morning Glories 40).

Though it is women in Welty's fiction who most often

are given the powerful gift of voice, Welty--perhaps unlike

Cixous--does not consider voice a distinctly female

privilege, as she makes clear in her description of Vaughn,

the male protagonist in Losing Battles. Her comments about

Vaughn's own voice and his recognition of others' makes it

clear that Welty regards voice as a forceful enabler of

multiplicity--if primarily for women, not exclusively.

He [Vaughn] thinks there's something else besides
the voices he's heard all day. He feels that
everything may have a voice. But he's in the

world and he feels--what I was trying to
say--that there's so much more than what he's been
listening to all day. (Devlin and Prenshaw 443)

Two articles by Robert H. Brinkmeyer, Jr. provide an

interesting way to conclude this discussion of Porter's and

Welty's differing conceptions of female identity. In one,

"An Openness to Otherness: The Imaginative Vision of Eudora

Welty," Brinkmeyer primarily uses Welty's nonfiction to

prove his thesis that Welty's "vision" is expansive and

fully engages the other. The best expressions of this

openness to otherness, Brinkmeyer argues, are found in her

attitudes toward place and relationship, both of which offer

individual identity the chance to encounter and participate

in otherness. As my citations of this article earlier in

this chapter indicate, Brinkmeyer's ideas are consistent

with my own findings, though my interest lies in the

expression of multiplicity in Welty's fiction and, more

specifically, in the identities of her fictional women.

However, in "'Endless Remembering': The Artistic

Vision of Katherine Anne Porter," Brinkmeyer attempts to

impose the same framework upon Porter's works, and here his

views radically diverge from my own. Brinkmeyer's thesis is

that Porter regarded memory as a means to uncover a "secret

self" and as an avenue to growth, change, and expansion of

vision. "To engage one's memory was for Porter an

engagement with a mysterious realm of experiences and

meanings we all carry within us, in a real sense an

encounter with another and secret self" (9). Brinkmeyer

goes on to argue that most of Porter's characters refuse to

face memory and thus miss richer possibilities open to them.

Brinkmeyer's article seems to me problematic in many

respects. First, Brinkmeyer argues that Porter believes

exploring memory opens an identity to larger dimensions

without showing any examples of the successful realization

of that range in Porter's characters. In fact, Brinkmeyer

admits her characters' consistent failure, a point which

erodes the power of his thesis. Brinkmeyer may himself see

the characters' rejection of memory as the cause for their

unfulfilled identities, but when he can offer no textual

evidence for the characters' realization of this fact, it

seems suspect to claim "Porter shows that these characters'

repression of memory and their refusal to enter into a

dialogue with its voices are the major cause of the

emptiness and desolation of their interior lives" (11--

emphasis mine).

Furthermore, through Brinkmeyer very briefly

acknowledges that Porter herself had "a disturbing tendency"

to deny her own memories, he nevertheless accepts without

question Porter's claim that she had abandoned that

practice, using as his proof a 1951 letter to William Goyan

in which she explains her inability to finish a story ("A

Vision of Heaven") because to do so required that she face

painful memories (14). In the letter she claims that her


love for Goyen has broken up "the strong core" "in which all

my experience seems to take, finally," allowing her more

"fluid" and "changing" possibilities (14). Brinkmeyer

misses the irony, however, in the fact that the story

remained unfinished at her death, and oddly uses this later

letter to argue for what he sees as a positive change in

Porter's attitude toward memory in the 1920's. He writes,

"though she clearly distorted a number of important facts,

nonetheless her efforts [in the 20's] to draw and create

from her memories [his emphasis] of the South signal an

emergence of the mature artist" (15). Brinkmeyer's emphasis

on "memories" is curious, especially since the first part of

his sentence seems to acknowledge that these were not

Porter's actual memories at all, but creations and legends.

Ironically, many of the quotations Brinkmeyer uses to

defend his thesis can be used to support my view of Porter's

conception of identity as a core struggling to maintain

integration. For example, he quotes a 1936 journal entry in

which Porter writes, "'Perhaps in time I shall learn to live

more deeply and consistently in that undistracted center of

being where the will does not intrude, and the sense of time

passing is lost, or has no power over the imagination'" (9--

emphases mine). Brinkmeyer concludes that the core Porter

speaks of is memory, and certainly it may include that, yet

even in the process of writing about memory, Porter's larger

need for order and integration can be seen: "'all my

experience seems to be simply memory, with continuity,

marginal notes, constant revision and comparison of one

thing with another'" (9--emphases mine).

Also ironic is the fact that the two characters

Brinkmeyer discusses to show Porter's faith in memory as a

means to this multiplicity of being--Granny Weatherall and

Sophia Jane--are two of Porter's characters most preoccupied

with maintaining an integrated core self. Brinkmeyer admits

that both fail, in different ways, to experience such an

expansive self. However, he cannot recognize that it may be

their overriding need for order and cohesion which prohibits

greater range to their identities. In other words, even if

Porter did look to memory as a means of multiplying her

characters' possibilities, she seemed unable to use memory

in that way for herself or to imagine her characters

successfully using it either. Instead, Porter and the

female characters she created are driven by their need for

an integrated core identity to repress anything, including

memory, which threatens to disrupt that order. Brinkmeyer

seems to describe them when he writes that

[t]o ignore or to repress memory is to limit
growth and potential, for in doing so a person
closes himself or herself off from the
multiplicity of life in order to consolidate his
or her own already established and self-assured
understanding of it, an understanding rooted in a
belief that a person's consciousness stands alone,
without a secret thou, unified and self-
sufficient. (10--emphases mine)


However, it is possible that Brinkmeyer has revealed a

transition which may actually have taken place in Porter's

thinking. The letter he cites, written by Porter in 1951 to

William Goyen, may hold a clue to that change. In the

letter, Porter writes that her memory--in this case, of her

niece's death--"instead of staying fluid and going on and

changing and living, sets itself and fixes upon a point in

time where the shock occurred and cannot be persuaded away

from it, and slowly turns to stone" (14). She claims that

her relationship with Goyen "broke up the strong core .

wrenched me away from that deadened center." While it is

doubtful that such a major change could be so instantaneous,

time and experience may have led her to try to

reconceptualize identity. If the change she claims in this

letter could not help her finish "A Vision of Heaven," it

may have enabled her completion of "The Fig Tree" and

"Holiday," the only two pieces of short fiction Porter

published after 1951 (the date of her letter) and before her

death in 1981. Interestingly, drafts of both of these works

were written much earlier in her life, according to Porter

("Go Little Book" v), but neither was finished or published

until years later. Importantly, it is only in these two

stories that Porter moves from a conception of identity as

fixed, centered, and singular to an ability to imagine it as

fluid, mutable, and multiple.

My choice of the texts to be discussed in this study

has been determined by how intimately each involves the

question of female identity. In most cases, this required

that the point of view used in the work be that of a woman,

or that the focus be upon a female protagonist. In a few

cases, even if a woman was not the exclusive or even

principal focus of the text, as is the case in "Rope" or

"The Key," I believed the story addressed the issue of

female identity sufficiently enough to merit its inclusion.

In other cases, the opposite held true: though "Petrified

Man" and "Why I Live at the P.O." are both told from female

perspectives and focus upon women, I did not consider either

work as seriously engaging questions of identity; hence,

they were not included.

Thus, the stories by Porter which I discuss in Chapter

One are, in order of their analysis, "Magic," "Theft,"

"Virgin Violeta," "Flowering Judas," "He," "Rope," "The

Jilting of Granny Weatherall," "Maria Concepcion," and "The

Cracked Looking-Glass." The Miranda stories, which include,

in order of their treatment of Miranda's life, "The Old

Order," "Old Mortality," "Pale Horse, Pale Rider," and

"Holiday" are discussed in Chapter Two.

Ten Welty stories are analyzed in my third chapter, and

the order in which they are discussed represents my attempt

to suggest a progression in the characters' acceptance of

multiplicity. In "The Whistle," "The Key," and "At The

Landing," the protagonists all yearn for the expansive

potential of plural identity but for different reasons

cannot or will not embrace its range and fullness. The

female characters of "A Memory," "A Curtain of Green," and

"Kin" move from refusals of multiplicity to eventual

acceptance of its added dimensions. Finally, in "A Piece of

News," "Clytie," "Livvie," and "The Winds" are found the

women who seem to me to possess from the beginning a

plurality of identity and work to enhance their already

multiplicitous selves through the action of the stories.

Welty's short story sequence, The Golden Apples, is

considered in Chapter Five as Welty's best expression of her

concept of multiplicitous identity.

Porter and Welty offer different, yet not always

necessarily conflicting, views of identity. Both portray

women who struggle to know themselves more fully, to form

identities they can live with, and to deal with the

influences which threaten their sense of themselves. Though

Porter and Welty begin with quite different conceptions of

female identity, Porter's gradual ability to imagine fuller

possibilities for her characters finds them, at the close of

my study, sharing a quite similar vision.


Marks, Elaine and Isabelle de Courtivron, eds. New French
Feminisms: An Anthology. New York: Schocken Books, 1981:
104. Further references to this work will be cited in the
text as NFF.


Welty, Eudora. The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty.
New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970: 361. Further
references to this work will be cited in the text.

See my sections on Porter in Chapter 6, which delineate
how Porter's need for unity and cohesion determined her
style and practice of writing.


Though Porter's lifetime literary output was rather

small, especially by comparison to some of today's more

prolific writers such as Joyce Carol Oates, it is

significant that a large percentage of her short stories

examine quite explicitly the issue of female identity.

These stories, which differ so radically in locale, point of

view, tone, and technique, nevertheless all portray identity

as struggling to maintain integration and wholeness.

Differences exist in her characters, of course, but not with

regard to the construction of identity as much as the

compositions of individual identities, ways in which

integration is attempted, and the degree of success of those

efforts. Examining the stories in chronological order of

their composition, there appears to be no strict pattern of

progression in the characters to suggest that Porter

increasingly allowed them an ability to reconcile disparate

aspects of their identities or progressively endowed them

with greater levels of subjectivity. Instead, her

characters seem to me to duplicate actual humanity,

sometimes faltering in their efforts to know and accept

themselves, sometimes achieving a satisfied sense of self,

following no faultless path toward integration.

Significantly, though not surprisingly, all of the nine

stories which engage the issue of female identity have as an

element of their characters' introspection a need to

reconcile the discontinuity between what they feel should be

true of their lives and what is true of their lives. In

this, of course, Porter's female characters reflect Porter's

own struggle, to greater or lesser degrees.

The order in which these nine stories are discussed is

a tentative effort to organize them in a sequence which

first shows those who are trapped in an inevitability of

identity to those who are able to shape an integrated sense

of self. The analyses begin with "Magic," Porter's most

bleak portrayal of female possibility, in which Ninette

seems fated to live with a permanent discontinuity between

her identity as she would like to order it and as it is

inevitably structured by circumstance. In "Theft," the

protagonist's self-imposed passivity and isolation prohibit

her self-integration, causing her to feel robbed of

subjectivity and positive relationality. Virgin Violeta

suffers the same losses, though through her cousin's agency

and not her own. Her initially lively, though immature,

subjectivity is supplanted by her harsh recognition of the

guilt-ridden objectification expected of women in her

society. Laura of "Flowering Judas" attempts but does not

achieve integration through identification with a cause she

ultimately does not understand or believe in. Her

involvement and tasks within the "revolution" become

metaphors for her failed personal attempts to order her

identity. In the end, Laura recognizes yet refuses the

personal responsibility which would offer her the connection

with others necessary for her own integration.

The characters of Porter's southern stories (outside of

the Miranda series) are barely more successful at unifying

their identities. Mrs. Whipple of "He" centers her identity

around maternity, an identity which is societally reinforced

and which she believes should be instinctual and innate in

women. However, because nurturance and selflessness, the

qualities which Mrs. Whipple associates with maternity, are

neither instinctual nor natural for her, her identity is

dichotomous and unresolved. In the final scene, Mrs.

Whipple finally admits her duality and voices for the first

time her true feelings, yet this moment of honesty proves to

be more shattering than sustaining.

Marriage, not motherhood, is the tie that binds in

"Rope." The rope which is the source of contention between

husband and wife also functions as metaphor for the

binding/bonding of marriage and the repetitive, coiling

cycles of argument which form the female protagonist's

identity. A pervasive sense of disorder disturbs the

identity of Ellen in "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall."

Through a heightened subjectivity and relationships

substituted for the one connection she believes could have

truly provided order, Ellen fights the disorder, yet

ultimately the "something not given back" is a whole and

orderly sense of identity.

Interestingly, it is Porter's first published story,

"Maria Concepcion" and her last published of these nine,

"The Cracked Looking-Glass," which move their female

protagonists toward a completeness and integration of core

identity. Murder is the vehicle for the restoration of

unity in the former, while in the latter, a deeply-rooted,

positive self-conception, a comfortable relationality, and a

clear sense of voice supply a wholeness of identity for


In a rare comment upon "Magic," Porter referred to it

as "the New Orleans story, a kind of little low-life gloss

on the gay New Orleans Amy [the protagonist of "Old

Mortality"] knew" (Letters 474). This comment perhaps

suggests that Porter intended it both as a parallel to and a

divergence from Amy's life as presented in "Old Mortality."

On one basic and perhaps superficial level it contrasts with

the account of Amy's honeymoon in New Orleans, both in the

stratum of society it depicts and the tone it employs.

However, on another, deeper level, it develops in more

radical form the same preoccupations Amy admits to: a

robbed subjectivity as the inevitable consequence of woman's

biological and social functions.

Set up as a frame story, "Magic" is told from the

perspective of a former maid who was employed at the "fancy

house" at which the framed story takes place. The maid, now

employed by a wealthy socialite, relates Ninette's

horrifying tale as a diversion for her employer, Madame

Blanchard, as she combs her mistress' hair. This context

both trivializes and intensifies the horror of Ninette's

fate in several respects. First, it is clear that neither

the maid, who witnessed the events she relates, nor Madame

Blanchard to whom she tells the story, has any emotional

investment in Ninette's condition; Madame Blanchard,

echelons above Ninette socially, perhaps cannot even imagine

the realities of a class so far below her. Her maid is

careful to preserve this gulf, as evidenced by her comments:

"'Maybe you don't know what is a fancy house?'" (39), "'I

don't repeat all, you understand it is too much'" (40),

"'[I] saw too many things, things you wouldn't believe, and

I wouldn't think of telling you'"'

Additionally, Madame Blanchard seems to derive at least

a bit of voyeuristic pleasure from the hearing of Ninette's

story. She does not passively listen to her maid's tale,

but actively encourages her to continue at two points in the

three-page story; at the first point, Madame Blanchard's

complaining that the maid is pulling her hair emphasizes the

chasm between the seriousness of Ninette's circumstances and

the nonchalance of Madame Blanchard's response to it, as


does her closing her perfume bottle in the second. In this

context, Madame Blanchard's name takes on a certain irony:

her title, Madame, is of course one shared by the proprietor

of a brothel; Blanchard derives from the French root

blanche, meaning white. Though in one sense, Madame

Blanchard, due to her social and economic position, is

indeed unsullied by Ninette's world, in another sense, by

using Ninette's misfortune as a source of her own pleasure,

she participates in Ninette's abuse, confirming her

whiteness as race and falsifying her whiteness as innocence.

Initially seen as the antithesis of the madam who beats

Ninette, she becomes by this reading a madam(e) equally

responsible for Ninette's fate through her failure to fight

it. Certainly Porter regarded those who refuse to resist

evil as culpable as those who actively participate in it.

Speaking of her book Ship of Fools, Porter remarked that it

shows "'the inertia good people have towards the evils of

this world, the things they allow to happen through

indifference, laziness and confusion too'" (ConvP 40).

It is even more disturbing that the maid, whose

condition and class seem more nearly to parallel Ninette's

own and who was quite intimately involved in the event she

narrates, does not seem affected by the horror she was

witness to. That she can casually relate the grisly details

of Ninette's beating in the hope that it will "rest" her

employer is evidence enough of her emotional distance. Her

distance, however, is more than emotional. Though her

apologetic comment to Madame Blanchard, "'I work always

where there is work to be had'" (39) at first seems to place

her in the same optionless position that Ninette is in, this

is quickly belied by the fact that she has indeed escaped

from the depravity of the fancy house into the "serenity" of

a house that is fancy.

This is possible for her while it is not for Ninette

because she was, in her capacity at the brothel, considered

a service, not a property. Ninette, however, is quite

literally what Luce Irigaray refers to as "goods on the

market." What makes Ninette's circumstances even more

terrible is that she has no identity outside her

objectification with either gender: she is sexual

merchandise for her male customers, who "like" her only for

her expertise and performance, and she is economic property

for the madam. There is no community of women through whom

she is able to cultivate an identity separate from her

objectification, a possibility not even denied Temple Drake

in Faulkner's Sanctuary. In fact, precisely the opposite

appears to be true--she is even more objectified by women

than by men, a defeat perhaps more crushing because it

involves a betrayal by her own gender. The madam not only

sells Ninette's body but then cheats her in her wages--"'it

is a business, you see, like any other'" (39), the maid

says; this injustice is compounded by the fact that she pays


the policemen who return her wayward girls far more than the

girls receive themselves. Seemingly, Ninette and every

other prostitute in the brothel are isolated from any female

community, trying to survive in a system in which all is

betrayal, even to the black cook, who ironically provides

physical sustenance yet schemes with the ma'dam to deny them

their very identity: "'she had a very hard heart, she

helped the madam in everything, she liked to watch all that

happened, and she gave away tales on the girls'" (41).

Given this environment, it is amazing that Ninette

retains any subjectivity at all, or the strength of will to

exercise it. Her plan to leave the brothel to find less

demeaning work has been obviously planned to work within the

system set up by the madam, conforming to her demands that

any owed money must be repaid before a woman is "free" to

leave the brothel. When she re-pays the money owed yet is

still denied the right to leave, Ninette can rely only on

the tiny but fiery core within her which is all that remains

of her voice and independent sense of self. As the madam

approaches her, Ninette shouts, "Keep your hands off or I'll

brain you" (40). Ninette's surviving core, however, cannot

withstand the madam's controlling subjectivity. The madam's

physical attack on Ninette is centered on the areas which

would most ruin her, since a life of prostitution, it is

implied, is all Ninette has known or will know: she is

kicked in "'her most secret place" (40) and beaten by a


bottle in the face. That to ruin her was the madam's intent

is apparent by her final statement to Ninette: "'Now you

can get out, you are no good for me any more'" (40).

The means through which the madam regains Ninette is

Porter's culminating reiteration of Ninette's inevitable

objectification. Prompted by a sizeable loss of revenue and

customer dissatisfaction which Ninette's absence creates,

the madam joins forces with the cook to conjure "magic" to

effect her return. Gathering together physical parts of

Ninette--traces of her urine, hair, powder that has touched

her skin, finger- and toe nails, and, most significantly,

blood from the sheets stained "'everywhere she had sat'"

(40) after her beating--the madam and the cook within seven

days' time re-produce Ninette. Their spell perversely

reverses the Biblical account of the order of God's creation

of humanity as told in Genesis 2:7. On the seventh day God

gathered the dust of the earth and produced a living,

breathing creature, capable of thought, communication, and

an independent will. The two women take remnants of

Ninette's physical being, spit into the mixture, and reduce

Ninette to "dirt under [their] feet" (41). Ninette, upon

her return, is little more than lifeless clay. Bereft of

voice, even more noticeably through contrast with the maid's

strong "I" which relates her story, Ninette thereafter lives

"quietly" (41), submissively resigned to her position as

inert/innate object.

Thus "Magic" as used in the context of this story is

lacking its usual connotations of mystical and wonderous

"other-worldliness." It is not magic, but hopeless

inevitability borne of necessity which brings Ninette back

to her "home," the word ironic and horrible in its use here.

The charm worked by the conspirators emphasizes their

physical possession of Ninette and Ninette's final and

complete loss of subjectivity.

An important addition to this conjure scene is the use

of the blood-stained sheets. Susan Gubar, in her analysis

of Isak Dinesen's "The Blank Page," comments that in

Dinesen's story, the blood-stained marriage bed sheets

signify women's inscription by men; framing these sheets as

works of art implies the women's acceptance of this

convention (296). By contrast, the one blank sheet stands

as a statement of rebellion (305). In "Magic," Ninette's

sheets undergo a series of transformations: on her bed and

unstained they signify her continual inscription by men

without the accompanying "pride" in the gift of virginity

willingly yielded to a single man. Later, stained by the

internal bleeding she suffers after her beating by the

madam, they invert the meaning attributed to the marriage

bed sheets in Dinesen's story. In one sense, they, like the

"blank page," are a testament to Ninette's rebellion, a

"bleeding into print" of her refusal to be inscribed by the

madam or by the men who use her body as a commodity. It is

appropriate, however, and consistent with her total

objectification, that even this sign of rebellion is

accomplished through the agency of her destroyer. The

sheets' final transformation occurs when the blood-stained

sheets are dipped into the water of the conjure. This act

does not purify, of course, but instead obliterates the only

evidence of Ninette's rebellion. With this erasure goes

also Ninette's last remnant of subjectivity; thus, the woman

the spell produces is, as has already been shown, a passive

object, "happy to be home" (41).

It could be argued that it is only because Ninette is a

prostitute, a woman who makes her living by being an object

of pleasure for men, that she is entirely objectified and

passive. Though of course this is a contributing factor,

other of Porter's female characters, in entirely different

situations, are also defined wholly through their positions

as objects. This objectification, with its accompanying

impoverished relationship and passivity, controls the core

of their identities as well. A character who particularly

illustrates this type is the unnamed protagonist of "Theft."

Given the fact that every other character in the story, with

the exception of the janitress, is particularized by being

given a name, the protagonist's lack of a name accentuates

her isolation and underscores her lack of subjectivity.

Porter, in speaking about the character sources of this

story, stated that "'[i]t's about a woman who leads a

sacrificial life[.] She had a strange sense of

alienation. No one could get near her. The woman

really wanted to commit suicide but didn't know it, so she

killed herself bit by bit.'"' Porter's comment makes it

clear that she regarded both the character and the person

upon whom she was modeled as passive, weak, separated from

relationship, and in danger of destroying their very

identity. What it is not as explicit in revealing is that

these traits and the objectification to which they

contribute are not pressed upon her by outside influence but

are self-imposed. That is, it is not her treatment by

others which causes her to respond passively, to extricate

herself from relationality, or to position herself as an

object in those relationships in which she does involve

herself. She actively chooses these responses and

positions, deliberately denying herself an active

subjectivity in her relationships; the story's lack of a

historical or cultural context to explain her choice perhaps

reiterates that the protagonist's objectification is her

"fault" entirely. She confirms the limitations of her

subjectivity in a short series of encounters with male

friends, positioning herself in ways which allow them to

retain their sense of identity while denying her own. For

example, the protagonist conforms to and confirms Camilo's

set of rituals which comprises his sense of self, allowing

him to walk her to the train station in the rain on this

occasion and pay her fare on other occasions, both

formalities she would dispense with "if she had not feared

Camilo would take it badly, for he insisted on the practice

of his little ceremonies up to the point he had fixed for

them" (60). Further, she frets about his rain-spoiled hat

because of the danger it will do to his self-image and is so

obsessed with safeguarding his identity that she feels

ashamed when she accidentally witnesses an act at odds with

how he wishes to be perceived.

As she watched, he stopped at the far corner and
took off his hat and hid it under his overcoat.
She felt she had betrayed him by seeing, because
he would have been humiliated if he thought she
even suspected him of trying to save his hat.

Her observation disturbs the protagonist partially because

she feels she has failed in her "responsibility" to serve as

mirror of Camilo's identity; the episode, however, is most

disturbing to her because it damages her desire to believe

in a consistent, inalterable identity for Camilo, and by

extension, for herself. This need for consistency and order

dominates her identity; it is only when she is "not in her

right mind"--drunk--that she can be calmed by the erratic

skidding of the cab driver or face the way "the rain

changes] the shapes of everything, and the colors" (60),

and then only when reassured by the familiar and dependable

closeness of her friend Roger.

With Bill, her weeping playwright neighbor, her self-

objectification takes another form. She still downplays her


own identity to heighten another's, but with Bill, passivity

(which is, of course, an element of the mirroring she does

for Camilo) is her means. Although the protagonist is so

low on money that she questions how she will pay for her

next meal, and though Bill, despite his claims of poverty,

nevertheless continues to buy expensive luxuries such as a

piano, a victrola, and a rug that "'once belonged to Marie

Dressier'" (62), she resignedly forfeits repayment of money

owed her by Bill. "'Let it go, then,' she found herself

saying almost in spite of herself. She had meant to be

quite firm about it" (63). This passivity is not only "in

spite of herself" but for spite of herself as well, since it

accomplishes a denial of her self, her needs, and her work

put in on writing the scene for Bill's play, for which she

will now never receive compensation.

The full extent of her passivity and self-

objectification, however, is shown through her responses to

her own romantic relationship with a nameless and absent

man. The remoteness of the relationship is underscored by

the fact that it is only in a letter that we hear the man's

voice, only in fragments that the letter, and the

relationship itself, survive at all. Characteristically,

the protagonist feels restricted in the relationship, as her

response to certain phrases of the letter makes clear. Even

language itself seems to control her, to be a stronger, more

mutable entity than she is herself.

There were phrases that insisted on being read
many times, they had a life of their own separate
from the others, and when she tried to read past
and around them, they moved with the movement of
her eyes, and she could not escape them. (63)

It is not surprising, then, that the protagonist refers to

the letter as having "[made] up [her] mind for [her]" (61),

in contrast to Roger's girlfriend Stella's active and

resolute stance--"'I had a letter from Stella today,'" Roger

reports, "'and she'll be home on the twenty-sixth, so I

suppose she's made up her mind and it's all settled'" (61).

The protagonist's resignation and passivity are further

enunciated by contrast with the conversations of the young

people who cross in front of the protagonist's cab. The

young man's proclamation that "'when I get married it won't

be jus' for getting married. I'm gonna marry for love,

see?'" (61) can be read as pure idealism, which is evidently

how Roger interprets it, yet nonetheless it reveals a

purposeful decision-making process, a commitment and

mutuality which are lacking in the protagonist's

relationship. The two girls who follow also discuss

relationship, with the stress now on personal female

identity within a relationship: "'But what about me?

You're always so sorry for him'" (61). The protagonist's

passivity creates a state of limbo in which she can neither

enjoy the intimacy of connection nor the possibility of

self-assertion or personal enrichment.

Amazingly, not until her purse is stolen by the

janitress does the protagonist recognize the negative

consequences of her passivity and denial of self. Her first

impulse after she determines the whereabouts of her purse

is, characteristically, to "let it go" (63), and the anger

which follows only "coincidentally" does little to undermine

her deep-rooted passivity. After only a half-hearted effort

to retrieve her purse from the janitress, she leaves, no

longer convinced, as she once was, that she cannot be

robbed, yet still believing that a force orders[] the

movements of her life without regard to her will in the

matter" (64). Though her thoughts as she leaves the

janitress reveal a potential transitional moment for her

identity, she remains caught between this belief in a

restricted will and the inevitability of circumstances and a

growing awareness of her own culpability in the direction

her life has taken. The protagonist is therefore

immobilized, burdened by the weight of her losses and unable

or unwilling to effect a change in her identity.

In this moment she felt that she had been robbed
of an enormous number of valuable things, whether
material or intangible: things lost or broken by
her own fault words she had waited to hear
spoken to her and had not heard, and the words she
had meant to answer with; bitter alternatives and
intolerable substitutes worse than nothing, and
yet inescapable: the long patient suffering of
dying friendships and the dark inexplicable death
of love--all that she had had, and all that she
had missed, were lost together, and were twice
lost in this landslide of remembered losses. (64-
-emphases mine)

The eventual return of the purse by the janitress

creates the scene which finally convinces the protagonist

that her own passivity and denial of self are responsible

for her isolation and restricted subjectivity.

Inexplicably, however, despite this recognition, the

protagonist retains at the end of the story the same

listless, defeatist attitude which has restricted her

possibilities throughout. The janitress' biting words,

"'You're a grown woman, you've had your chance'" (65),

seemingly have been internalized by the protagonist; the

story ends with her embracing only a cup of cold coffee,

admitting her self-thieving, a confession phrased in future

tense, suggesting a continuing pattern of self-depletion:

"I was right not to be afraid of any thief but myself, who

will end by leaving me nothing" (65--emphasis mine).

The protagonist of "Theft," despite her realization of

her own role in her fate, nevertheless chooses to replicate

the pattern she has established. She is perhaps prompted

towards replication by a need for stability so strong that

it preserves even destructive tendencies rather than to

allow changes in identity, alterations potentially more

disturbing because of the damage they would do to a solid,

predictable sense of self. The title character of "Virgin

Violeta" also faces an identity-rending situation, but

unlike the woman of "Theft" is unable to stabilize the

disparities she encounters. She therefore lives in the

confusion of two irreconcilable worlds--her interior world

of what should be and the external world of what is: ". .

it was all very confusing, because she could not understand

why the things that happen outside of people were so

different from what she felt inside of her" (23).

The discontinuity Violeta senses at the opening of the

story differs from that which she experiences at the end,

and, because it is grounded in a childish immaturity, is not

as problematic as her later disintegration. The initial

rift is one common to adolescence, the disparity between the

ordinariness of everyday life and internalized romantic

idealism. Though Violeta is certainly conscious of the

disjunction, she is able to so prioritize her interior self

that the discrepancy can remain with little damage to her

identity. It is a fairly simple matter, after all, to hide

her ugly leather sandals under her skirt, close her eyes and

return to her dreams, in which "[l]ife was going to unroll

itself like a long, gay carpet for her to walk upon" and in

which she "wear[s] red poppies in her hair and dance[s]"


Central to Violeta's romantic envisionings is the

relationship she imagines herself as having with Carlos, a

fantasy particularly ironic since it is he who eventually

shatters rather than fulfills her romantic conceptions.

Clearly, Violeta pictures herself as the "Virgin Queen of

Heaven" and Carlos as "Her Faithful Servant St. Ignatius


Loyola" (22), associations that Porter doubtless intended as

evidenced by the title of the story and Carlos' scrutiny of

the painting by this title. Violeta seems to imagine

herself as a much-desired, withholding woman, a woman who is

not subjugated to men but to whom men are subject. This

parallel too, of course, is twisted ironically, the "Pious

Interview" of the painting becoming a worldly, manipulative


In opposition to Violeta's private sense of herself as

a powerful woman with a strong subjectivity are her family's

attempts to "renovate" and "repair" her willfulness, making

her into a second Blanca. Blanca, whose very name suggests

both the purity and the blankness which is their ideal of

femininity, has already attained what they desire for

Violeta--the "modesty, chastity, silence, [and] obedience"

(23) which is taught at the convent. It is a sign of

Violeta's unconscious investment in these expectations and

of her lack of readiness to truly live the life she imagines

for herself that Violeta finds it comforting "to be assured

that nothing was expected of her but to follow Mamacita

about and be a good girl" (24). However, it is also a sign

of her ability to manipulate her family's expectations to

the service of her private sense of identity that she

elaborates that sense of identity during these hours of

mindless submission: "It gave her time to dream about life-

-that is, the future" (24).


The area of Violeta's life most at odds with her sense

of identity, however, is her life at the convent. It is

this discrepancy, in fact, which prompts her remark that

she could not understand why the things that
happen outside of people were so different from
what she felt inside of her. Everybody went about
doing the same things every day, precisely as if
there were nothing else going to happen, ever; and
all the time she was certain there was something
simply tremendously exciting waiting for her
outside the convent. (23-24)

In this conviction she anticipates Miranda's later response

to an identical situation: "[the nuns] were very dull good-

natured women who managed to make the whole dormitory seem

dull. All days and all things in the Convent of the Child

Jesus were dull, in fact, and Maria and Miranda lived for

Saturday" ("Old Mortality" 194). Again, however, Violeta

is able to transform even this decidedly unromantic

situation in a way that Miranda and her sister Maria

ultimately cannot, with their comparisons of the actual

convent with those in the anti-Catholic pamphlets. She

accomplishes this by imagining herself as "one of the nuns,

the youngest and best-loved one" (25) in one of Carlos'

poems: "There was one about the ghosts of nuns returning to

the old square before their ruined convent, dancing in the

moonlight with the shades of lovers forbidden them in life,

treading with bared feet on broken glass as a penance for

their loves" (24). Through this fantasy, Violeta is able to

assert a subjectivity not allowed her by her family, whose

control makes her feel "[l]ike those poor parrots in the


markets, stuffed into tiny wicker cages so that they bulged

through the withes, gasping and panting, waiting for someone

to come and rescue them" or by the church, which is a

"terrible, huge cage, but it seemed too small" (26). Not

only does the freedom of dance in her fantasy contrast

sharply with the images of restriction associated with

family and church, but the fantasy is also a clear defiance

of the "modesty and chastity" taught her by both. That

Violeta's vision gives her a sexualized pleasure seems

apparent from the fact that she "would shake all over when

she read this, and lift swimming eyes to the delicate spears

of candlelight on the altar" (24). Importantly, Violeta

does not create a fantasy dissociated from her actual

circumstances, but attempts to integrate elements of reality

with fantasy, though admittedly the elements are radically

transformed, the convent "ruined" and "square" and without

question romanticized.

Ironically, Carlos, whose poems inspire Violeta's

romantic visions, is also the one who destroys her

romanticism and initiates a far more irreconcilable

division in her identity. Archetypal imagery reaffirms the

transitional nature of this episode. In a search for a

volume of Carlos' poetry, Violeta leads Carlos down a

"narrow, dark hallway," through a room which smells of

ripening fruit, and into a sunroom which at this hour is

illuminated by moonlight. Interpreted psychoanalytically,

this short journey could signify Violeta's movement into

womanhood: the dark hallway represents a realm of the

unknown, the ripening fruit suggests Violeta's own physical

and sexual maturation, and the room filled with moonlight, a

traditional female symbol, signifies a transition into

female maturity. The symbolism of these elements is

reaffirmed when Violeta, after Carlos' attempted seduction,

considers the memory of the event "all mixed up with the

white rivers of moonlight and the smell of warm fruit and a

cold dampness on her lips that made a tiny, smacking sound"


Carlos' unsolicited kiss, therefore, has tremendous

import, forcing onto Violeta an adult identity which

radically differs from both her previous romanticized

identity and her sheltered existence at home and at the

convent. Through this incident, Violeta comes to realize

that as a woman her concept of self will be determined by

male expectation and desire, the mirror they hold up to her.

She will not have the liberty of self-creation, but will be

made as man's image. Thus, though Violeta states that

Carlos is "loathsome," what follows that statement is not a

description of his loathsomeness, but her own: "she saw

herself before him, almost as if his face were a mirror.

Her mouth was too large; her face was simply a moon; her

hair was ugly in the tight convent braids" (29--emphasis

mine). She accepts, almost without question, his

characterization of her as a "'nice baby, freshly washed

with white soap,'" too naive to comprehend that his kiss was

not intended as sexual, but as "'brotherly'" (29). Though

Porter makes it clear that Violeta's interpretation of

Carlos' kiss is correct (Carlos says to Violeta, "'What did

you expect when you came out here alone with me?'" [30]),

Violeta nevertheless accepts Carlos' indictment of her as

accurate. "She was shamefully, incredibly in the wrong.

She had behaved like an immodest girl. It was all bitterly

real and unbelievable, like a nightmare that went on and on

and no one heard you calling to be waked up" (30). Her

romantic dreams now effectively converted into nightmares,

Violeta is initiated into an adult female identity which

requires her objectification, her submission to man's

desires. Jane Krause DeMouy concurs, reading this scene as

a shattering of Violeta's vision of love, in which a woman

can retain her personhood, and its replacement with a vision

of woman as object (Pomegranate 52).

With her objectification is a consequent loss of voice.

Before her encounter with Carlos, Violeta possesses a voice

which affirms her identity--"At the sound of her own voice

she felt calm and firm and equal to anything" (28). From

the moment that Carlos clamps his hand over her mouth,

however, that voice is stifled. She regards her mouth as

"too large" (29--my emphasis), and "even to whisper hurt[s]

her" (31). "Her breath was gone, but she must explain. 'I


thought--a kiss--meant--meant--' She could not finish" (29-

emphasis mine). Violeta's earlier characterization of

herself as a parrot trapped in a cage is particularly

appropriate in this new context, for it is implied that from

this point on she can only "parrot" the words or ideas of

another. Carlos, by contrast, is portrayed as a macaw, a

bird known for its harsh, disruptive yet distinctive voice.

Appropriately, when overwhelmed by Carlos' "macaw eyes" and

"smiling mouth ready to swoop," Violeta's only possible

response is to scream "uncontrollably" (31). Importantly,

it is because "no word of it [the episode with Carlos] was

spoken again" (32) that the rift in Violeta's identity

remains unreconciled. Known boundaries have been changed,

meanings have been altered, and Violeta's identity, once

centered around a core which was at least secure if not

mature, is now a disintegrated muddle. "Everything she

could remember in her whole life seemed to have melted

together in a confusion and misery that could not be

explained because it was all changed and uncertain" (31).

After a summer of being "shut up" in the country--with

respect to both the restriction and voicelessness the term

implies--Violeta's situation remains unimproved. Suspended

between two identities, Violeta can not adopt either fully.

As Violeta prepares for another year at the convent, it is

apparent that the convent is no longer an ordinary and drab

reality pitted against her romantic fantasies; it is instead

a fantasy world of a different sort, piously isolated from

the harsh reality to which Violeta has been exposed. Its

shelter and protection are not a preparation for the world,

but an escape from it, and Violeta rightly perceives that

"there was. nothing to be learned there" (32). Now

recognizing that "there was no longer so great a difference

of experience" (32) between herself and Blanca, Violeta

knows she is no longer the child Mamacita believes she is;

gone are the childish moments of comfort when it "was

beautiful to curl up near [Mamacita], snuggling into her

shoulder" (26): "Mamacita's breast had become a cold,

strange place" (31). Yet she is also not yet a woman,

physically or emotionally. For yet a while, she must

continue in the "painful unhappiness [that] possessed her at

times, because she could not settle the questions brooding

in her mind" (32).

Like Violeta, Laura of "Flowering Judas" also "cannot

help feeling that she has been betrayed irreparably by the

disunion between her way of living and her feeling of what

life should be" (91). It is her need to restore her

fractured identity which leads to her immersion in the

Mexican revolution, yet because the revolution and its

realities (rather than its ideals) are at odds with her

deeper sense of self, Laura's identity, instead of being

repaired, is further fragmented.' Lacking the independence

and subjectivity which would allow her to extricate herself


from her situation, Laura remains, believing herself trapped

and without options. At the end of the story, Laura is

given the opportunity to renounce her passivity and declare

her responsibility to herself and others, but she refuses

this final chance to free herself.

Though Laura's motives for becoming involved in the

revolution are never explicitly stated, her disenchantments

are; through examining them, Laura's need for a stable core

of identity can be detected. It seems apparent, through her

description of the ideal revolutionist (91), that she

intended to dedicate herself wholly to what she once

believed was a noble cause: by channeling all her energies

toward one goal, she hoped to achieve a sense of direction

and single-mindedness which would integrate her identity and

stymie an increasing feeling of fragmentation. In her

idealism, she seems to have taken for truth what she now

sees as at least suspect, if not basely false in Braggioni's

rhetoric: "Everything must be torn from its accustomed

place where it has rotted for centuries, hurled skyward and

distributed, cast down again clean as rain, without separate

identity" (100). There once was, however, a great appeal

for Laura in the possibility of renewal, of the repair and

re-distribution of decomposing parts, their integration int

oa "clean" new whole, "without separate identity." So

consuming is her drive for integration and wholeness that

she tries to believe that it is worth the sacrifice of her

autonomous will and personal subjectivity to achieve it:

"'my personal fate is nothing, except as the testimony of a

mental attitude'" (93). Though she cannot quite "surrender

her will to such expedient logic" (91), she does,

nevertheless, seem convinced that incompleteness is one of

the worst possible fates she can imagine. "'It may be true

I am as corrupt, in another way, as Braggioni as

callous, as incomplete,' and if this is so, any kind of

death seems preferable" (93--emphasis mine).

Close involvement with the revolution has not, in fact,

produced an integrated identity for Laura but has instead

further fragmented it; her identity has been "hurled

skyward" only to be "cast down again," shattered even

further by the discontinuities she now sees between

revolutionary ideals and worldly realities." Able at this

range to see these discrepancies, she becomes less secure in

her own wholeness and constructs a defense against her own

disintegration. Generally this defense can be described as

a sort of mental isolation or remoteness. She "persuades

herself that her negation of all external events as they

occur is a sign that she is gradually perfecting herself in

the stoicism she strives to cultivate against that disaster

she fears, though she cannot name it" (97). This tactic,

though protective, is also of course incredibly restrictive,

encouraging a paralyzing passivity, effecting her almost

total objectification, denying her access to enriching

relationality, and inhibiting the expression of her

sexuality. Laura's passivity is pervasive, influencing her

role in the revolution, her relationships, her teaching

position, and her continued residence in Mexico. Nowhere is

it better demonstrated, however, than in Laura's evening

sessions with Braggioni. She sits silently, "like a good

child who understands the rules of behavior" (92), safe

within the order and predictability of structure. She

"dares not" be honest in her response to his miserable

musical performance (90); she "dares not" let her thoughts

move from Braggioni (98). She avoids returning home after

work rather than to face Braggioni or ask him to leave; she

allows him to lecherously gaze at her and speak intimately

about her. Significantly, her "weapons" against his

invasion of her self all reaffirm her need for stability,

immutability, and a central focus. Thus she protects

herself with a "fixed gaze" (97), with the "consoling

rigidity of the printed page" (91) of the book resting on

her lap, and with the "firm unchanging voice of her blood"

(97) which repeats her rejection of whatever forces might

disrupt her guarded self: "[t]he very cells of her flesh

reject knowledge and kinship in one monotonous word. No.

No. No. She draws her strength from this one holy

talismanic word which does not suffer her to be led into

evil. Denying everything, she may walk anywhere in safety

. (97).

With all others as well she exercises her passive

defense. Carried to its fullest extreme with her suitors,

Laura's passivity is responsible for her complete

objectification. It is a position, however, which Laura not

only accepts, but desires, for as merely an object, she is

not expected to respond as a person, with any real

involvement or emotional investment." Thus she can also

dismiss her suitors' apparently ardent wooing as a mere

convention or law of nature, meaningless for her (96). It

is a posture she assumes for Braggioni as well, for safe

within her objectification "he is quite harmless, there is

nothing to do but sit patiently and say 'No,' when the

moment comes" (98).

As this quotation makes clear, Laura's objectification

is necessarily tied up with her sexual desirability. Since

Laura has made herself to be the passive object of men's

attentions, she opens herself to the possibility of sexual

manipulation as well, against which her "no" would have

little practical effect. That she is aware of her

vulnerability in this area is seen through the way in which

she dresses herself: "Her knees clung together under sound

blue serge, and her round white collar is not purposely nun-

like. She wears the uniform of an idea, and has renounced

vanities" (92). Braggioni also notes that she "covers her

great round breasts with thick dark cloth, and hides

long, invaluably beautiful legs under a heavy skirt" (97).


By controlling her body, Jane DeMouy argues, Laura believes

she can control her fate (Pomegranates 105). Though her

dress may be partly protective, comments by Porter indicate

that it may also be renunciative of her own sexuality.

Describing the woman upon whom Laura was based, Porter notes


Mary was one of those virtuous, intact, strait
laced Irish Catholic girls. Paul Rosenfeld once
said that the Irish were born with the fear of sex
even before Christianity. Well, this fat
revolutionist got in the habit of dropping by with
his guitar and singing to Mary. Goodness knows,
nothing could be more innocent. But you know, she
wasn't sure of him. (ConvP 123)

Though Laura's mental isolation is intended to preserve

the unity and wholeness of her identity, it is unmistakably

clear in the context of the story that her efforts are

ineffectual. Porter's glosses on the story reaffirm that

she meant to portray Laura as a woman who was ultimately

unsuccessful in preserving a clear sense of her own

identity. Commenting that the model for Laura's character

was a woman who "never did anything in life" (ConvP 62),

62), Porter further explains that consequently "she was not

able to take care of herself, because she was not able to

face her own nature and was afraid of everything" (ConvP

90). This indeed seems to be Laura's own problem. Her

isolation intensifies her feelings of detachment and

fracture her from time and place. This fracture is shown

even through the tense in which the story is told; use of

the present tense emphasizes Laura's disconnection from the


past and from the future (Hatchett 153). Thus she inhabits

a space between countries, feeling trapped and displaced in

Mexico, yet also dissociated from her past life.

[S]he thinks, I must run while there is time .
Still she sits quietly, she does not run. Where
could she go? Uninvited she has promised herself
to this place; she can no longer imagine herself
as living in another country, and there is no
pleasure in remembering her life before she came
here. (101, 93)

She is, quite simply, "not at home in the world" (97) though

she must exist in it. Neither does she experience time as

potentially restorative, but as entrapping and maddening:

"Numbers tick in her brain like little clocks, soundless

doors close of themselves around her" (101). In fact, one

of her most frightening imaginings is of her stasis in time:

". .she is waiting for tomorrow with a bitter anxiety as

if tomorrow may not come, but time may be caught immovably

in this hour, with herself transfixed ." (99).

Claudine Herrmann suggests that this is not an unusual

response for women.

It is because time is harder on women than men.
Aging, separated from her children, strength no
longer consoles her. More than anyone, from
childhood to old age, she lives the negative
aspect of time: only her childhood is truly free.
She stands out without trying to in youth, then
she finds herself little by little ignored as her
beauty disappears. (NFF 171)

It is not only Laura's sense of disunity with time and

place, however, which suggests her ultimate failure to

create an integrated identity. One of the story's finest

touches is that Laura's activities within the rebellion

become emblematic of her personal disintegration and

disconnection from her own voice and relation with others.

Thus the "union" meetings which she attends, with their

argument and bickering, suggest her own lack of

cohesiveness. Similarly, the "messages disguised in

equivocal phrases" (94) which she delivers to the prisoners

from those outside are a counterpart of and a symbol for her

own hesitant voice, composed not of her own words but

relaying only the ideas of another, and conveying not a

firm, certain, and open expression of self, but only one

which is "disguised" and "equivocal." Laura's response to

the revolutionists to whom she bears news is equally

telling: "She knocks at unfamiliar doors not knowing

whether a friend or a stranger shall answer, and even if a

known face emerges from the sour gloom of that unknown

interior, still it is the face of a stranger" (97). This

response reveals not only Laura's denial of relationality

but can also be a symbol for her own inability to know

herself, or as Porter puts it, her inability "to face her

own nature." Laura knows her external face, the face she

presents to the world, but because it emerges from an

"unknown interior," a disordered and fragmented identity,

she remains essentially a stranger to herself. Finally, the

narcotics she supplies to the prisoners, which send them

into stupors, are metaphoric emblems of Laura's own

passivity and numbness.

Throughout the story, then, Laura is involved in

different efforts designed to integrate, stabilize, and

protect her identity, all of which are ultimately futile.

She is, however, given one final opportunity to accept her

connection with others, to express her own feelings and

ideas, and to throw off her passivity. The opportunity

comes in the form of a dream occasioned by Laura's

unacknowledged guilt at giving Eugenio, a prisoner, the

narcotics which enabled his intentional and fatal overdose.

Appropriately, Eugenio must wake Laura from sleep, for that

is what her passivity and isolation have become, and attempt

to lead her from the "strange house" in which she remains

through her own passivity. For the only time in the story,

Laura reaches out to another person, signifying her need for

connection and perhaps a preliminary willingness to accept

responsibility for the consequences of her passivity.

Despite Eugenio's refusal to take her hand, she nonetheless

continues her journey outward with him "without fear,"

leaving the place she does not belong, seeking connection,

and willing, seemingly, to follow Eugenio into death. When

Eugenio offers her the "warm bleeding flowers" of the Judas

tree, she accepts them, but only for what they can provide

her, for they satisfy[] both hunger and thirst" (102). She

does not accept them as a means of connection with Eugenio.

For, when Eugenio identifies them as his body and blood,

Laura rejects both the blossoms and Eugenio with her


talismanicc" word no, the voice of her denial and isolation

throughout the story. Porter writes that this moment is one

of refusal, an inability "to face her life, what she'd done

but I didn't know until I'd written it that she was

going to wake up saying, 'No!' and be afraid to go to sleep

again" (ConvP 89).

Consumption of the Judas blossoms would mean acceptance

of her own role as a Judas to Eugenio, and total

assimilation of that role, to Laura, would require that she

participate in his death through her own. Thus her cry is

one of self-preservation as well. What Laura does not

recognize is the potential renewal which would come through

eating the Judas flowers, a possibility Porter suggests

through her association of this act with the rite of (and

here the name is significant) communion and Eugenio with

Christ. Just as we must accept our own culpability in

Christ's death (as Judas himself eventually did) in order to

enter into a new life in Him, so Laura must admit her

responsibility for Eugenio's death in order to move beyond

her passivity, isolation, and objectification. Paul, in

Galatians 2:20 expresses this as a process of death which

leads not to self-annihilation but to rebirth: "I am

crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but

Christ liveth in me." Laura is unable to perceive this

possibility; the story ends with her "trembling,"

"reject[ing] knowledge and kinship in one monotonous word.

No. No. No." (97).

The last three of Porter's short stories in which the

female protagonist is unable to achieve complete integration

of identity are her only southern stories outside of the

Miranda series. These three, "He," "Rope," and "The Jilting

of Granny Weatherall," seem somewhat more successful than

the previous four discussed in that the women in each are

able to accomplish some degree of integration, though it is

always either achieved too late, as in "He;" is only

temporary or cyclical, as in "Rope;" or is an inadequate

substitute for a more deeply desired order, as in "Jilting."

Interestingly, in all three of these stories, the female

protagonists seek wholeness and integration of identity

largely through relationality, in a way that the

protagonists of the previously discussed four stories do


In "He," Mrs. Whipple centers her identity on her

maternal "instincts" for her mentally and physically

handicapped son. The matter, however, is complicated by the

fact that she does not possess such an instinctual nature, a

truth that Mrs. Whipple cannot acknowledge for at least two

reasons. First, it contradicts both the conventional

expectations for women that she and all the women she knows

so heartily endorse; for a woman who defines herself quite

extensively by how she is perceived by others, this is no

small consideration. Even more importantly, however, Mrs.

Whipple denies this reality because of the damage it would

do to her belief in her maternal identity, the core of her

sense of self. Therefore she goes to great lengths to

convince others, and thereby herself, of the depth of her

maternal feeling: "Mrs. Whipple loved her second son, the

simple-minded one, better than she loved the other two

children put together. She was forever saying so, and when

she talked with certain of her neighbors, she would even

throw in her husband and her mother for good measure" (49).

Mrs. Whipple does not seem to recognize that to deplete one

area of maternal feeling (her love for her other two

children) to intensify another (her love for He) weakens the

validity of both.

Ironically, Mrs. Whipple uses the very acts which best

demonstrate her resentment and mistreatment of Him as

evidence of his special qualities and abilities, which in

turn allows her to play the role of a doting mother. Thus,

Mrs. Whipple gives Him a far more demanding work load than

the other children receive because He is "so strong" (50);

she justifies taking His warm bedding by claiming that "'He

sets around the fire a lot, He won't need so much'" (54),

yet when the doctor who comes to treat Him for pneumonia

notes its absence, she gives Him a blanket of her own so

"'they can't say we didn't do everything for Him even

to sleeping cold ourselves on His account'" (55).

Similarly, she allows Him to tend to the bees because "'if

He gets a sting He don't really mind'" (51), and to grab a

nursing piglet from its angry mother because "'He's not

scared'" (52). Taken together, these claims for his

superiority allow Mrs. Whipple to deify Him, a point

suggested by the capitalized pronouns referring to Him and

reinforced by the preacher's comment about Him: "'The

preacher said such a nice thing once when he was here. He

said, and I'll remember it to my dying day, "The innocent

walk with God--that's why He don't get hurt"'" (50).

Unfortunately, His deification does not prompt worship or

adoration but rather robs Him of humanity, denies His

reality, and ignores His suffering, another, different

reading of the pronoun with no referent.

These same cruelties are often initiated as a way of

"working up" maternal feelings for Him, a process essential

to preserving Mrs. Whipple's identity. This is the case

when Mrs. Whipple allows him to pick peaches; when a

neighbor expresses concern that He might hurt himself, Mrs.

Whipple calls Him down and whenhn He finally reached the

ground she could hardly keep her hands off Him for acting

like that before people, a grin all over His face and her

worried sick about Him all the time" (51). Another more

dramatic example is when she sends Him to drive a bull home,

though she fears and unconsciously denies the possibility of

the bull suddenly goring Him to death. As she anxiously


stands in the lane, awaiting His arrival, her prayer reveals

that her concern is not motivated by maternal love but by

preoccupation with appearances, though her emotion allows

her to consider herself a representative mother, dutifully

enacting the role expected of her.

It was just like everything else in life, she must
always worry and never know a moment's peace about
anything. She watched from the window while
He led the beast in, and tied him up in the barn.
It was no use trying to keep up, Mrs. Whipple
couldn't bear another thing. She sat down and
rocked and cried with her apron over her head.
(55, 56)

Clearly, assuming the mantle of motherhood allows Mrs.

Whipple to appropriate for herself an identity which she

believes must be an innate part of her femaleness: "'It's

more natural for a mother to be that way [caring,

nurturing]. People don't expect so much of fathers, some

way'" (49). To reaffirm her maternity "ease[s] her mind"

and provides a sense of wholeness, calm and integration to

her identity. Thus, when visitors come, Mrs. Whipple feels

restless and unsettled until she talks of her love for Him

and His special attributes. Only after completing this

"ritual" does Mrs. Whipple begin to experience a

reintegration: "[S]he always felt a warm pool spread in her

breast, and the tears would fill her eyes, and then she

could talk about something else" (50).

In the final scene, Mrs. Whipple finally comes face to

face with the reality of her treatment of and her feelings

for Him. At only one point prior to this moment does Mrs.

Whipple approach the understanding she has at the end. This

occurs when she kills the suckling pig for a meal intended

to impress her brother and his family. For the reader there

is an obvious parallel drawn between the pig's dependence

and need for nurturance and His own, though there is very

little similarity between the sow's raging protectiveness

and Mrs. Whipple's casual cruelties. Appropriately, she

sends Him to wrench the pig from the teat of the angry

mother, forcing Him to create for the pig the same

disjunction He experiences with his mother. Even the sight

of "the little black squirming thing screeching like a

baby in a tantrum, stiffening its back and stretching its

mouth to the ears" (52)--a possible parallel to His later

"fits," during which He "blubbered and rolled" (56)--does

not affect Mrs. Whipple; she can "[take] the pig with her

face stiff and [slice] its throat with one stroke" (52),

with the same insensitive deliberateness with which she

takes His extra blankets or assigns Him the most difficult

or dangerous chores. Ironically, the significance of the

act is not lost upon Him; despite His "dimwittedness," He

recognizes and feels the pig's suffering, just as He feels

his own. At the sight of the blood, "He gave a great

jolting breath and ran away" (52); later, He refuses even to

come to the table where the pig is "roasted to a crackling

in the middle [of the table]" (53).

His reaction to her killing of the pig seems to alter

Mrs. Whipple's own response. Though earlier she could slit

the pig's throat with callous ease, now "the sight of the

pig scraped pink and naked made her sick. He was too fat

and soft and pitiful-looking" (52). Suddenly and for the

first time she recognizes the cruelty of which she is

capable; immediately she rejects it as incompatible with her

sense of identity as a woman and attempts to justify her act

as out of her "natural" domain and out of her control:

". it was the man's work to butcher. It was simply

a shame the way things had to happen" (52--emphasis mine).

The episode with the pig prefigures the fuller

realization to which Mrs. Whipple comes in the final scene

of the story. Having come to the decision to commit Him to

the county asylum, ostensibly so he can receive what they

cannot provide but actually for the financial and emotional

relief His leaving would allow them, Mrs. Whipple

accompanies Him on the journey. Though by now the boy is

nearly incapacitated, he is aware enough of his situation to

respond emotionally to it; his tears clear Mrs. Whipple's

own vision, enabling her to acknowledge His humanity and her

inadequacy as a mother.

He seemed to be accusing her of something. Maybe
he remembered that time she boxed His ears, maybe
He had been scared that day with the bull, maybe
He had slept cold and couldn't tell her about it;
maybe he knew they were sending Him away for good
and all because they were too poor to keep Him.
Whatever it was, Mrs. Whipple couldn't bear to
think of it. She began to cry, frightfully, and
wrapped her arms around Him. (58)

Her own tears come not because of compassion but because

such an acknowledgement disintegrates her identity, which

has centered on her perception of herself as maternal,

nurturant, selfless, and tender. With this central myth of

self shattered, Mrs. Whipple for the first time admits her

true feelings about Him: "Oh, what a mortal pity He was

ever born" (58). Her grief at this moment is intensely

real: grief for His ruined life, grief for her inability to

be the kind of mother He needs, the mother she has wanted to

believe she is: "There was nothing she could do to make up

to Him for His life" (58). The deepest tragedy of the

situation is that Mrs. Whipple comes to terms with herself

as a mother at the very moment that she no longer has

immediate maternal responsibilities. Emly and Adna now both

have their own lives and jobs away from their family, and

despite Mrs. Whipple's dreams of their happy reunion, there

is virtually no chance of its ever occurring. And He, who

has figured most intricately into Mrs. Whipple's sense of

self, is irrevocably lost to her. For them, as for the

neighbor who drives them at full speed to the hospital, "not

daring to look behind him" (58), there is no turning back.

Another of Porter's southern stories, "Rope," is one of

her least analyzed. Slightly less than seven pages, it

presents an extended argument between a married couple. In

an interview with James Ruoff, Porter describes the story's

organizing principle: "'I'd heard lots of quarrels among

couples I knew and found in them all the same pattern--a

structure like a five-act drama. "Rope" is the distilled

essence of all those fights I'd heard'" (ConvP 64). The

argument is initiated, as are most battles, over a trivial

issue--the husband's purchase of a twenty-four yard length

of rope. In the framework of the story, however, the coil

of rope becomes anything but trivial, functioning as a

symbol of the couple's knotty, sometimes twisted, cycles of

argument in their marriage. For the woman especially, since

it is to her that the rope is a source of contention, the

rope represents not only "'the distilled essence of all

those fights" but the essence of her identity as well. She

seems unable to separate her sense of self from her role

within the marriage. The husband regards a rope as useful,

though he can think of no use for it at the moment; the

woman seems to consider her marriage as he does rope,

somehow necessary to her identity though on the surface it

seems more detrimental than necessary. In "Rope,"

relationship is the tie that binds more than the tie that

bonds, shown through the woman's response to the rope.

Importantly, the story is placed in the context of a

woman getting her house in order; through this, the woman's

need to order her existence, and thus her identity, is

stressed, and the paradoxical function of her marriage in

disrupting and preserving this order is clarified, as are

the roles of other areas. It seems obvious that the woman

regards this move to the country as an opportunity to re-

order her identity, to allow it a personal space which was

lacking in the cramped atmosphere of the city. Here she

yearns for time and space to enjoy the beauty which the

country, and perhaps by extension, her identity embodies.

Thus, for example, it is significant that one of her primary

objections to the rope (which, as has already been argued,

becomes a symbol of her marriage and of the battles which

characterize it) is that it clutters the space she has

allowed for herself alone. "She had borne all the clutter

she meant to bear in the flat in town, there was space here

at least and she meant to keep things in order" (44). It is

perhaps a comment on her own self-restriction and adherence

to conventional roles, however, that the room she reserves

as her own and seems most intent on ordering is the kitchen,

the traditional center of woman's domesticity.

Contributing to the woman's sense of disorder is her

apparent inability to have children. In the course of their

argument, her husband uses this lack as an indirect attack

on her, stating that "the whole trouble with her was she

needed something weaker than she was to heckle and tyrannize

over. He wished to God now they had a couple of children

she could take it out on. Maybe he'd get some rest" (44).

Her "changed" expression indicates the painful effect of his

words, suggesting that maternity is an unfulfilled aspect of

her identity, keeping her from a sense of wholeness and

integration: "She looked so forlorn, so lost and despairing

he couldn't believe it was only a piece of rope that was

causing all the racket" (44). Her husband's mention of the

rope at this point is appropriate, since earlier a possible

connection is made between the rope and her fertility.

Noticing upon his return from town that the eggs he bought

have been "squeezed" (43), the woman immediately places the

blame upon the rope, which she claims has been laid upon

them. Her choice of the word "squeezed" is significant

here, in that it suggest a deliberate, snake-like coiling of

the rope around the eggs. Such an interpretation may

reflect the woman's unconscious conviction that her husband

is to blame for her infertility, signified by the crushed


The most important use of the rope metaphor in the

story, however, is to describe the intricate and sometimes

twisted relationship the woman has with her husband. Like a

rope's fibers, they are intertwined, yet, as mentioned

previously, are more bound than bonded by their closeness.

Both husband and wife share the sense of irrevocable and

inescapable connection that is expressed in the following

interchange: "Lord, yes, there was nothing he'd like better

than to clear out and never come back. She couldn't for the

life of her see what was holding him, then" (45--my

emphasis). Both seem to hold to the belief that "things

accumulated, things were mountainous, you couldn't move them

or sort them out or get rid of them. They just lay and

rotted around" (47), a comment made in reference to the

rope, but again applicable to their relationship. There is

some evidence that the woman would enjoy an unravelling of

this rather constricting relationship, but is a(fray)ed of

the disordering consequences of such a choice. For example,

the woman complains that her husband should have remained in

town, separated from her, until she had "got things

straightened out" (45--my emphasis); later, her husband

reaffirms this half-acknowledged desire when he notes that

"she had told him those two weeks alone in the country

[during the previous summer] were the happiest she had known

for four years[.] And how long had they been married when

she said that?" (45) The wife denies that her happiness was

the result of their separation and this statement is not

without its element of truth. Just as a part of her

identity craves the subjectivity and independence she

associates with a life apart from her husband, another part

needs the security and predictability that her marriage

offers. Evidently, even the predictability of continuous

cycles of argument seems more reassuring and orderly than

the absence of relationship. And, unfortunately for this

couple, relationality and subjectivity, growth and

independence are mutually exclusive possibilities.

Though by the end of the story the couple's cycle of

argument has ended and they walk together literally

entwined, she leaning against him with her fingers hooked

into his belt, he with his arm around her and patting her

stomach, there is every reason to suspect that their

destructive cycle of negative relationality will continue--

this is only a temporary state of integration for the woman.

Both had come to the end of their ropes, but since the

husband has not returned the coil of rope as he claimed he

would, there remains more than enough rope with which to

hang themselves.

Of all Porter's female protagonists, perhaps none

demonstrates a more conscious and desperate drive for

integration than Ellen Weatherall of "The Jilting of Granny

Weatherall." Her efforts, like the unnamed woman's of

"Rope," are partially successful, yet her central conflict

of identity remains unresolved, as does that of "Rope"'s

protagonist. Therefore, she achieves a measure of

integration through her roles as wife and mother and, even

more importantly, through her preoccupation with external

orderliness; however, the overwhelming personal rejection

she sustained sixty years earlier has rendered her identity

irreparably fragmented and disordered. The title, which

combines the jilting--an event early in her life--with her

title of "Granny"--a role she attained later in life--

suggests the lingering effect of the prior episode.

Ultimately, Granny faces death with a reiteration of the

abandonment and confusion she felt at age twenty.


No details are given of Ellen's life prior to her plans

to marry George, the man who later jilts her, which

establishes this relationship as the central determinant of

her core identity. Clearly, her marriage to George was to

initiate a pattern of order which Ellen intended to

characterize her entire existence. Ellen describes this

event in her life as a careful sowing of seeds for the

future, a "bright field where everything was planted so

carefully in orderly rows" (84), her language reflecting the

precision and order, as well as the growth and productivity,

which her plans give to her identity. It is perhaps no

coincidence, given this context, that George's name means

"farmer," for he is to preside over this ordering. With her

rejection by George, then, comes an immediate and almost

literal disintegration of self, a loss of all the

definitions and boundaries she has ever known. Hell and

earth mingle into a formless fog which marches army-like

into her orderly orchard, obliterating by its darkness her

"bright" field:

All you made melted and changed and slipped under
your hands .. A fog rose over the valley, she
saw it marching across the creek swallowing the
trees and moving up the hill like an army of
ghosts. Soon it would be at the near edge of the
orchard There was the day, the day, but a
whirl of dark smoke rose and covered it, crept up
and over into the bright field where everything
was planted so carefully in orderly rows. That
was hell, she knew hell when she saw it. (83,84)

The same fog may also refer to Granny's present inability to

recall clearly the day of her wedding and the sense of order

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