Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Miss Leonora When Last Seen” exemplifies the complexities of community life and the pettiness that often informs public decisions. Thomasville has loved having the Logan family to revile and use as an excuse for their own lack of progress. Although Miss Leonora is old-fashioned in some respects, she is the one who gave African Americans work and homes on her property. Shortly before her final departure, she gives a small black boy a book she is reading when he expresses an interest in it. The town does not approve of her different ways and finds a way to cast her out by condemning her house.

The city fathers of Thomasville disguise their cruelty to Miss Leonora by calling the new school progress and projecting ancient grievances against Miss Leonora’s ancestors onto her. They are also uneasy about her kindly treatment of blacks and nervous about the coming of integration. Will Miss Leonora side with the blacks who live on her property? The town decides not to take a chance and drives her out. Miss Leonora cuts her losses and leaves, not giving the town the satisfaction of knowing where she is going. Now it is their turn to feel left out of the decision-making process.

The English poet William Blake said, “Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.” The city fathers of Thomasville do not heed Blake’s admonition. In the thankless, pitiless treatment of Miss Leonora, they have driven from their midst an essential ingredient to the health of the town. In “Miss Leonora When Last Seen,” Peter Taylor challenges the reader to examine the role of eccentrics in communal life and exposes the petty cruelty of blind group decisions.