Pale Horse, Pale Rider Themes

Themes and Meanings (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The sense of foreboding established by Miranda’s dream-choice of a pale gray horse to ride at dawn with the “stranger” on his gray horse never leaves the reader and builds as the narrative progresses. By providing so little external action in the story, Katherine Anne Porter focuses the reader’s attention on the inner voice and the inner eye, and on the figure of Death always visible from the corner of that eye. For Miranda and Adam, death is not an ancestral memory or a future shadow; it is riding with them in the present moment, moving between them and an “ordinary” real life together and finally between them as individuals. There is no time for living; there is only time for death. As individuals, Adam and Miranda may think that they make their own choices—Adam keeps repeating that he wanted to fight in the war and Miranda chooses life in her dreams—but Porter presents death and its power as a reality that supersedes all others.

Porter’s skillful combination of setting and allusion provides the framework within which she develops her theme. The end of the “war to end all wars” and the title’s echoing allusion to Revelation 6:2 (“Behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him”) both balance the names of the main characters—Adam, the first man, and Miranda, William Shakespeare’s heroine who learns of a “brave new world”—to create an alpha and omega, a beginning in which there is always and already an ending, a world in which there is no time because there is infinite time.