Katherine Anne Porter: "Old Mortality" - Forces at work in “Old Mortality”
“The past dies, but is not dead; the present generation moves on, then retreats to the past, moves on, [and] retreats again” (Stout 503). Stout words bring an interesting point: through time there is inconsistency with respect to peoples’ memories about world events. Thus how do you know that the facts you learned from previous generations are really the truth and not something that came from someone’s imagination? The answer to this question is illustrated by Katherine Anne Porter in her short story “Old Mortality.” In the story the author suggests that the only way to know what is real is through a person’s experiences. Porter developed a character that lived in a perfect world filled with romanticism and unrealistic events; she first created Miranda with the innocence of a child, the admiration for elders and love for romantic and poetic dreams. Through her short story “Old Mortality” Porter molded Miranda’s character. Porter describes human development through Miranda’s growth as person. Miranda’s first step toward development begins with doubts about her family’s history which at the end lead her to the rejection of her roots, and her growth as an individual. By rejecting her roots Miranda is able to form a clear view of herself, her goals, and her future.
Porter used a special technique for the development of her characters. During Porter’s short stories she used the “narrative space” to form her character’s identity through their experiences. Fornataro-Neil describes Porter’s characters as “silent characters”, according to him, “[silent characters] allowed [Porter] a greater opportunity to comment on the construction of identity and to critique the notion of objective truth” (349). Porter’s technique was effective and it brought forth the real issues she wanted to address without the unnecessary in-between material. The technique allowed her to go straight to the point. According with Fornataro-Neil, Porter depicts how history and identity are constructed. Miranda’s identity is constructed by rejecting her past, and as Fornataro-Neil explains “we all write and rewrite our own stories and histories based on our circumstances, agendas, pains, and individual narrative purposes” (352). With this sentence the author shows how each person creates their own identities based on their own point of view. We create our own fictitious stories of events in our lives; in “Old Mortality” Porter’s “repeated use of the words story, legend, narrative, and tale underscores the fictive nature of the family’s reconstruction of the past” (349). This was Porter’s way of letting the reader know that the family’s recollection of events is a creation of their romantic creativity.
For Miranda observation and recognition were her first steps toward her personal growth. It is unclear whether Miranda’s herself knew that she was about to embark on her life journey. Porter introduces Miranda as an innocent child full of life that in the course of the story grows to an independent woman. Since her childhood, Miranda questioned the stories told by her elders. Miranda and her sister would look at a picture of their deceased Aunt Amy and “[they] wonder why every older person who looked at the picture said, “How lovely”; and why everyone who had known her thought her so beautiful and charming” (Porter 3). Miranda could not see the beauty in the picture, yet she could not completely ignore the stereotype imposed by others. Miranda understood her family’s tradition of romantic legends filled with ideal settings, not just the accurate recollection of events. Using her own judgment against what others described as the truth she was able to view and understand the world with what she could trust, her instincts and her common sense. She knew that her elders would often use romantic language in order to make the lives of relatives more interesting. Miranda wondered how much of what she learned about her background was true. ...