Who was Caroline Pafford Miller, and what did she contribute to American literature?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Caroline Pafford Miller's primary contribution to American literature was the Pulitzer Prize winning Lamb in his Bosom.  It achieved worldwide fame and established her as part of an emerging Southern tradition of writers.  Miller was born in 1903 and lived a life of conformed domesticity.  She married her English teacher after graduating from high school.  Miller did not go to college, but rather began her course of study as a student of life as a woman in the 1920s South.  Miller began to feel the weight of social expectations upon her and there was the added struggle of her wanting to write, as well. "Overwhelmed by the pressure," Miller began to study the lives of women in her family's past as a source of inspiration:  “They had something very real, very tangible, yet almost indefinable, that anchored them and gave them faith and courage and I needed that something so much."  In recognizing that the women of the past, women who were similar to her own predicament, had something to offer, Miller began to conduct the research for Lamb in his Bosom.  Miler went into the rural conditions of Georgia, interviewed people that would establish the basis for her book, and engaged in what we now could call "action research."  In these areas, she engaged in discourse with those who had experienced a great deal of life.  As the South was making strides towards industrialization and urban location, Miller's work was almost a throwback to what Southern identity actually was.  This sense of reality permeated her work: "Almost every incident in Lamb in His Bosom actually occurred. Some of them I heard from my uncles and aunts, some from my mother. I got most of the local color from hereabouts, but the facts from family history and history of other families. I could hardly tell where fact left off and fancy began."  The result of her collection of research enabled her to publish the book and obtain the Pulitzer Prize in 1934.

Pafford Miller's contribution to American literature is the continual affirmation of distinct voice.  Pafford Miller's work demonstrates that American identity is far from monistic.  It is a tapestry, a collection of distinct experiences that fall under the umbrella of what it means to be "American." Pafford Miller's efforts demonstrate that the real writer is able to construct a narrative out of what exists around them:  

Don’t let people tell you there is no drama in your life, or that your surroundings are too colorless for novel material. If you can’t find the novel in someone else’s life, look into your own. Perhaps you don’t have any Georgia pines to write about, but there is something else quite as lovely in your life. I am certain of that. There never was another you. Write the way you feel it.

At a time in American history where individual voice was being homogenized into a cultural majority, Pafford Miller's words contribute to the uniqueness that is so very intrinsic to the definition of "American."  She proves that the writer is unique in how they are able to perceive the basic elements of their own life and construct narrative voice from them.