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The Grave Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The corpse of Miranda and Paul’s grandfather has been exhumed three times since his death in about 1870. Twice it was removed by their possessive grandmother and reburied, first in Louisiana and then on her farm in Texas. After the grandmother’s death, the land where the burial ground lies is sold, and the grandfather—along with the other occupants of the family cemetery—is removed by his descendants to a public cemetery to lie beside his widow for eternity.

One day following the last exhumation, Miranda, nine years of age, and Paul, who is twelve years old, are hunting for rabbits and birds. Crossing the fence into the old burial ground, they notice the open graves. Miranda leaps into the pit that had held her grandfather’s bones and finds a small silver dove. Excited by her discovery, she climbs out to show the dove to Paul, who, in another grave, has found a gold ring. Miranda instinctively wants the ring, Paul the dove, so the two exchange their treasures. Realizing that they are trespassing on land that is no longer theirs, they return to the other side of the fence and pick up their guns. As they walk, Paul declares that the first dove or rabbit they see is his, and Miranda asks if she can have the first snake. The gold ring, now glistening on Miranda’s “grubby thumb,” shifts her attention from hunting to her boyish clothes; suddenly she resents her overalls and sockless feet and longs to put on a thin, becoming dress.

Just as Miranda decides that she should tell her brother about her change of mind and return home, Paul shoots, without Miranda’s competing, and kills a rabbit. After stripping the skin—to be used as a coat for Miranda’s dolls—and noticing the animal’s bloated belly, he tells Miranda the rabbit was going to have babies. Cutting through the flesh and then into the scarlet bag, Paul exposes a bundle of tiny rabbits, each wrapped in a thin scarlet veil. He removes the veils and reveals their almost featureless blind faces, and Miranda asks to see them. Touching one and noticing the blood running over them, she trembles without knowing why. Seeing the unborn rabbits, which remind her of kittens and human babies, Miranda loses some of her former ignorance and begins to feel a formless intuition in her mind and body. She at once decides not to keep the skin, and Paul buries the babies back in the womb, wraps the loose skin around the body, and hides it in the bushes. With a confidential tone, Paul implores Miranda to keep the event a secret.

One day, nearly twenty years later, as Miranda is picking a path along a market street in a strange city of a strange country, a vendor holds up a tray of dyed candies in the form of little creatures, including birds and rabbits. The candy, in combination with the market’s piles of raw flesh and wilting flowers, evokes the memory of that long-ago day, which springs to her mind with such vivid clarity that it stuns her. Until this day, she had remembered the episode only vaguely as the time she and Paul had found treasure in the opened graves. At this moment, the dreadful vision dims, and Miranda imagines young Paul standing in the blazing sunshine, smiling soberly, and turning the silver dove over in his hands.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“The Grave” is the final story in a collection titled “The Old Order,” which was included in The Leaning Tower, and Other Stories. The seven stories in the collection are commonly called “the Miranda stories,” as the principal character in each one is named Miranda; she also appears in Old Mortality and Pale Horse, Pale Rider. It is generally thought that Miranda is the author herself at different points in her life.

In “The Grave,” Miranda is nine and her brother, Paul, twelve. While hunting rabbits, they come upon the family cemetery, which has been emptied because the land has been sold. The children explore the pits where the graves had been and discover two small objects: a gold ring and a tiny silver dove. Miranda persuades Paul...

(The entire section is 1,866 words.)