Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 413

"A Christmas Memory" was first published in Mademoiselle in 1956 and then reprinted in Selected Writings of Truman Capote in 1963, but it received little attention until it was reprinted as a gift-boxed set for Christmas in 1966. Reviews at the time were generally favorable, with a writer for Harper's calling it "an enchanting little book destined ... to become a classic." Nancy McKenzie noted in The New York Times that the story ''seesaws slowly and nostalgically in time." However, other critics, including playwright Tennessee Williams, characterized the story as saccharine, overly sentimental, or even repulsive. Capote himself described the story as a catharsis which helped him to deal with his experiences as a child in the South: "The moment I wrote that short story I knew I would never write another word about the South. I am not going to be haunted by it any more, so I see no reason to deal with those people or those settings,'' he said in an interview with Roy Newquist in Counterpoint in 1964.

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William Nance sees the story in The Worlds of Truman Capote as important for understanding Capote's work because of the character of Buddy's elderly friend. "Asexual admiration of a childlike dreamer heroine is the usual attitude of the Capote narrator," Nance explains, linking Buddy's friend to Dolly Talbo in The Grass Harp and Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Nance further notes that in "A Christmas Memory" Capote displays his typical "hostility toward those outside the magic circle," the magic circle being the closed environment manufactured by those who are alienated in some way from society.

Many critics have noted the similarity between Buddy himself and Capote's other male characters. Often lonely, thirsting for love, and in search of an identity, these characters represent Capote himself. In "A Christmas Memory,'' these emotional quests end on a sad note when the narrator says "Home is where my friend is, and there I never go." Other critics comment on Capote's presentation of male characters as forcing the reader to rethink gender roles. Buddy revises the traditional coming-of-age narrative, in which the male protagonist demonstrates his masculinity and self-worth by moving ever westward and exploring new frontiers. Instead, Buddy remembers with fondness baking fruitcakes on a cast-iron stove, thereby romanticizing the traditionally female sphere of domesticity. During the years in which he is supposed to ''come of age," he rejects the traditionally masculinizing influence of military schools, which he characterizes as "a miserable succession of bugle-blowing prisons."

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Essays and Criticism

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