Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Truman Capote’s own interpretation of this story is that Miriam is a part of Mrs. Miller herself, the terrifying creation of a woman drifting into schizophrenia. The story presents evidence of a woman who, in her grief and loneliness, conjures up images from her own childhood. Miriam’s clothes are like those that Mrs. Miller would have worn in her childhood, a time when there would have been no films. It is possible that Mrs. Miller was once demanding and impertinent. There is much more to this story, however, than the mere case study of a split personality.

It is clear from the outset that Mrs. Miller is not a stereotypical recluse living behind locked doors in dark, untidy rooms. Her apartment is described as a pleasant one in a recently remodeled building. She is a widow, but there is a mention only of adequate insurance, not of insurmountable grief. Although she may have narrow interests and no close friends, she gets out to the grocery store once in a while, occasionally takes in a film, and even goes shopping. Her life is no different from countless other lives, especially in a big city. Capote says that “her activities were seldom spontaneous,” that she rarely does more than clean house, fix food, tend her canary, and smoke an occasional cigarette. It may sound like a life of quiet desperation but not one of impending madness.

Miriam’s initial appearances occur under fairly normal circumstances: while Mrs. Miller stands in...

(The entire section is 460 words.)