‘‘The Grave’’ was first published in 1935 in the Virginia Quarterly Review, although it would receive more attention as part of a collection of stories published in 1944, The Leaning Tower and Other Stories. That collection was generally well received by critics, who admired Porter’s elegant, understated style, although her light touch won praise for subtlety even as it was criticized for lacking warmth and vitality. ‘‘The Grave’’ appears as part of a group of stories within The Leaning Tower called ‘‘The Old Order.’’ Taken as a whole, the stories present the family history of a young girl named Miranda: each very short tale depicts a scene from their past in a nostalgic, poetic tone that is nonetheless tinged with a vague sense of darkness. The last story of the group, ‘‘The Grave’’ begins with Miranda, nine years old, playing with her brother Paul in the empty graves that formerly contained many of the relatives from the earlier stories.
The earlier stories are not necessary to understanding ‘‘The Grave,’’ however. In fact, although it is last in ‘‘The Old Order,’’ it was the first ‘‘Miranda story’’ to be published. Even without the added context of the family’s aristocratic, slaveowning Southern past, the story touches lightly on issues of race, gender, and class. In its portrayal of Miranda and Paul’s discovery of unborn baby rabbits within the womb of a rabbit they shoot while hunting, ‘‘The Grave’’ also offers a feminine coming-of-age story. Through the eyes of Miranda, the story not only conveys a sense of the changing social standards for women in the first part of the twentieth century, but also transcends its historical setting with its nuanced understanding of the wonder and the worry inherent in learning about the reproductive powers of one’s own body.