What is the conflict in the story The Old Order by Katherine Ann Porter?

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Michael Ugulini eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The primary conflict in the “The Old Order” by American writer Katherine Ann Porter is race relations. “The Old Order” is a collection that includes a novella as well as short stories. Two girls, Maria and Miranda, are our main view into the world of this story. The views of these two girls were heavily influenced by the older generation who talked of issue in their environs.

The main character, young Miranda Gay, is confronting the irrationalities of her time and place in particular, and the society and culture of the times in general. In addition, she is also letting in, positively speaking, the astonishments and curiosities of her environment as well. Miranda Gay is somewhat close, autobiographically-speaking, to the author Katherine Anne Porter, who was born in the State of Texas.

The details of the effects of cruel punishment on blacks is a major theme and conflict. In essence, “The Old Order” uncovers in a penetrating light the hypocrisy and hatred that was prevalent in the Deep South as well as the gender inequalities. A significant conflict in “The Old Order” is the stories told about what was happening in the Deep South concerning race relations versus the things that were to horrific to even mention concerning this - and subsequently talk about.

The time frame of the story is post-Civil War America. One person, Nannie, in “The Old Order”, is a former slave who decides to forgo the comforts of the home she lived in as a slave, to pursue her independence and freedom as she is now a freed slave after the close of the Civil War.

Sophia of the Gay family always treated Nannie well, and now that she is deceased, Nannie decides to live life on her terms. This is a conflict and decision many former slaves had to make upon being issued freedom. Many chose to stay with their masters despite being offered the opportunity to leave.

In addition, in ‘The Old Order’ Maria is affected by the hanging of Nannie’s grandson. She also sees the underlying hypocrisy and cruelty in the region where she lives. Moreover, Miranda and her siblings feel shamefaced when they hear stories regarding slavery, espoused by Uncle Jimbilly.

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