How do the friends influence the narrator in “A Christmas Memory”?
In Truman Capote’s short story “A Christmas Memory,” the best friend influences the narrator’s development as a person. Through their close relationship, she teaches him non-judgment, acceptance, appreciation for beauty, and love of imagination. Their other friends—actually acquaintances to whom they send annual holiday fruitcakes—teach the narrator the importance of maintaining connection with others. Ultimately, the narrator’s best friend shows him how to feel and show compassion for others across time and space.
In “The Christmas Memory,” the narrator is influenced by friends—mostly by his closest friend (and distant cousin)—to feel connections with others and to see the world through nonjudgmental, hopeful eyes.
The seven-year-old narrator and his “sixty-something” cousin bond in their estrangement from their relatives. Despite a vast age difference, they are each other’s best friends. The narrator unquestioningly accepts his much older cousin even though she is “still a child.” From her, he learns to find the beauty in crude, hostile circumstances. Even in her appearance (e.g., stooped posture, shapeless dress, and craggy face) he find her “sprightly” with a “remarkable” visage that is “delicate too, finely boned.” He extends this vision to other seemingly decrepit objects, like his “dilapidated baby carriage,” which they still find useful to carry out fun exploits and even to cradle their ugly yet lovable mutt.
It is made of wicker, rather unraveled, and the wheels wobble like a drunkard's legs. But it is a faithful object; springtimes, we take it to the woods and fill it with flowers, herbs, wild fern for our porch pots; in the summer, we pile it with picnic paraphernalia and sugar-cane fishing poles and roll it down to the edge of a creek; it has its winter uses, too: as a truck for hauling firewood from the yard to the kitchen, as a warm bed for Queenie, our tough little orange and white rat terrier who has survived distemper and two rattlesnake bites.
The best friend inspires in the narrator the qualities of excitement, industriousness, and generosity. Despite the cold weather, she motivates him to make fruitcakes as gifts. They purchase ingredients with what little money they saved through their creative joint enterprises (e.g., rummage sales, fruit and jam sales, flower gathering, even a “Fun and Freak Museum”), “wallowing in the pleasures of conspiracy.” After laboring for four days, they mail the fruitcakes to their friends or
People who've struck our fancy. Like President Roosevelt. Like the Reverend and Mrs. J. C. Lucey, Baptist missionaries to Borneo who lectured here last winter. Or the little knife grinder who comes through town twice a year. Or Abner Packer, the driver of the six o'clock bus from Mobile, who exchanges waves with us every day as he passes in a dust-cloud whoosh. Or the young Wistons, a California couple whose car one afternoon broke down outside the house and who spent a pleasant hour chatting with us on the porch (young Mr. Wiston snapped our picture, the only one we've ever had taken). Is it because my friend is shy with everyone except strangers that these strangers, and merest acquaintances, seem to us our truest friends? I think yes. Also, the scrapbooks we keep of thank-you's on White House stationery, time-to-time communications from California and Borneo, the knife grinder's penny post cards, make us feel connected to eventful worlds beyond the kitchen with its view of a sky that stops.
Through his best friend, the narrator learns to feel connection with people who have touched their lives, even briefly and from a distance. Small, fleeting gestures of kindness are enough for the narrator and his best friend to remember people. He holds no prejudices against any of these diverse personalities, but accepts and shows generosity to them all. Most importantly, the narrator understands the importance of extending and maintaining connections with others across time and space.
The best friend also inspires in the narrator an appreciation for the imagination. Instead of seeing a movie, she would rather hear a story and picture the details herself. The narrator stresses that in spite of her limited experience (having never “eaten in a restaurant or traveled more than five miles from home”), seemingly sheltered life (having never “received or sent a telegram, read anything except funny papers and the Bible, worn cosmetics”) and abundant kindness (having never “cursed, wished someone harm, told a lie on purpose, let a hungry dog go hungry”), she has unique skills and unexpected complexity. In fact, the narrator makes a point of illustrating experiences that his best friend has had:
Here are a few things she has done, does do: killed with a hoe the biggest rattlesnake ever seen in this county (sixteen rattles), dip snuff (secretly), tame hummingbirds (just try it) till they balance on her finger, tell ghost stories (we both believe in ghosts) so tingling they chill you in July, talk to herself, take walks in the rain, grow the prettiest japonicas in town, know the recipe for every sort of old-time Indian cure, including a magical wart remover.
She finds beauty and pleasure in the seemingly simplest, unsophisticated, everyday things. Even when circumstances seem bleak, she creates joy. After they mail the fruitcakes and are broke, the narrator is depressed. His best friend, on the other hand, “insists on celebrating—with two inches of whiskey left in Haha's bottle.” His spirits are lifted by her fanciful invitation to drink, sang, and dance.
Tables are turned after their relatives scold the elderly woman for being a bad influence on the young narrator. He cheers her up by taking her out of the house to an “ocean” of “scented acres of holiday trees” in order to choose a “real pretty” Christmas tree. He not only lifts her spirits but also leads them to discover a beautiful “virile” tree that garners admiration from others.
That Christmas, they fly kites that they made for each other and experience closeness and comfort that the narrator treasures forever. Even after being forced to move to a military school, he knows that he and his best friend still share a bond despite their physical separation.
I have a new home too. But it doesn't count. Home is where my friend is, and there I never go.
The kites symbolize their connection, which is altered—but not completely broken—with her death. The narrator feels that news of her death severs
from me an irreplaceable part of myself, letting it loose like a kite on a broken string. That is why, walking across a school campus on this particular December morning, I keep searching the sky. As if I expected to see, rather like hearts, a lost pair of kites hurrying toward heaven.
Nonetheless, they still are connected in spirit. The narrator remembers the gifts his best friend gave him and the hope she instilled in him as a young orphan. She was a major influence in his development into a compassionate, thoughtful, appreciative, and observant writer.
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