Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The most important stylistic feature of “A Christmas Memory” is the sense of immediacy that Capote creates by writing in the present tense. Although he writes as an adult remembering a childhood experience at least twenty years earlier, he avoids the feeling of distance that narrating a memoir in the past tense would create or the impersonal objectivity that a third-person narrator might lend. Anxious to create a strong emotional context, he favors the immediacy of the present tense, almost as if he would prefer the memoir to be a play. Indeed, in 1966 the story was adapted for television, with Capote reading the story as a voice-over narrator.

The story begins by asking readers to become an audience, almost as if they were sitting in a theater: “Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago.” Before the first paragraph ends, the story slips into the present tense, thereby creating a dramatic quality: “Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar. A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window.”

This immediate dramatic quality is maintained throughout the story. At times it describes past events that are important to the moment—“Once we won seventy-ninth prize, five dollars, in a national football contest”—but it is always quick to return the reader’s attention to the dramatic present—“at the moment our hopes are centered on the fifty-thousand-dollar Grand Prize being offered to name a new brand of coffee.” At times, Capote even includes what might be seen as stage directions—“Enter: two relatives. Very angry. Potent with eyes that scold, tongues that scold. Listen to what they have to say.” At other times, he writes what sounds like directions in a film script: “Morning. Frozen rime lusters the grass” or “Home: Queenie slumps by the fire and sleeps till tomorrow, snoring loud as a human.”

The story ends with “This is our last Christmas together. Life separates us,” using “is” instead of “was.” Even as Capote recalls the passage of time that eventually led to the death of his cousin, he holds on to the present tense as long as he can—“a morning arrives in November, a leafless, birdless coming of winter morning, when she cannot rouse herself to exclaim: ’Oh, my, it’s fruitcake weather!’” In the last words of the story, Buddy is an adult again, but he still remembers in the present tense: “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.”

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Growing up in the Depression
Capote's "A Christmas Memory" takes place in the South during the Depression. Though a larger...

(The entire section is 398 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

''A Christmas Memory'' is a personal reminiscence which depends on first-person narration and the nostalgia of a rural Southern setting to...

(The entire section is 648 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1930s: Schools and most other public facilities across the South are segregated by race.

1956: The University of...

(The entire section is 309 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

What role does money play in "A Christmas Memory"? In what ways does the story suggest the economic hardship of the Great Depression, and how...

(The entire section is 159 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

''A Christmas Memory'' was adapted for television in 1967 with Geraldine Page and Donnie Melvin; Truman Capote was the narrator. It is...

(The entire section is 146 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

"The Thanksgiving Visitor," a 1968 story also by Capote, is a companion piece to ''A Christmas Memory" and recounts further adventures of...

(The entire section is 287 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Hyman, Stanley Edgar "Fruitcake at Tiffany's," in his Standards A Chronicle of Books for Our Time, Horizon Press,...

(The entire section is 156 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Truman Capote. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003.

Brinnin, John Malcolm. Truman Capote: Dear Heart, Old Buddy. Rev. ed. New York: Delacorte Press, 1986.

Clarke, Gerald. Capote: A Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988.

Dunphy, Jack.“Dear Genius”: A Memoir of My Life with Truman Capote. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1989.

Garson, Helen S. Truman Capote: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Plimpton, George. Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career. New York: Doubleday, 1997.

Rudisill, Marie. The Southern Haunting of Truman Capote. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland House, 2000.

Windham, Donald. Lost Friendships: A Memoir of Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and Others. New York: William Morrow, 1987.