The Grave Characters

(Short Stories for Students)

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Miranda is the main character in the story; through most of it, she is nine years old, but the story concludes with the adult Miranda, perhaps nearing thirty, reflecting on her memories. She lives on the farm of her grandmother, now dead, with her father, Harry, her brother, Paul, and her older sister, Maria. Although her family once had money and social status, her grandmother had slighted her father Harry in her will, leaving them ‘‘in straits about money.’’ Miranda thus has an awareness of both her family’s grand past and their current difficulties; she has a ‘‘powerful social sense, which was like a fine set of antennae radiating from every pore of her skin.’’ Lacking the guidance of a woman—either her mother or grandmother—Miranda’s father dresses her in boys clothes: ‘‘dark blue overalls, a light blue shirt, a hired-man’s straw hat, and thick brown sandals.’’ To neighbors, Miranda’s odd dress reflected both their family’s fall from grace and the disorder of a motherless household, and Miranda senses their scorn. At the beginning of the story, Miranda seems innocent, ‘‘scratching around aimlessly and pleasurably as any young animal.’’ When she sees the bodies of unborn rabbits, pulled from the womb of the mother rabbit her brother had shot, she feels she has received forbidden knowledge—a feeling that haunts her even twenty years later, when she suddenly recalls the incident.

Paul is Miranda’s twelve-year-old brother. He takes Miranda hunting with him reluctantly and instructs her on how to handle her gun, although she listens poorly and displays little interest. By contrast, Paul is almost too involved with the sport: ‘‘She had seen him smash his hat and yell with fury when he had missed his aim.’’ When Paul discovers the unborn rabbits in the body of a rabbit he kills, he seems surprised, although Miranda suggests that he is not as innocent as she was: ‘‘Her brother had spoken as if he had known about everything all along. He may have seen all this before.’’ Nonetheless, Paul seems concerned about exposing Miranda to this new knowledge of the birth process. Usually impatient and condescending toward Miranda, he approaches her ‘‘with an eager friendliness, a confi- dential tone quite unusual in him,’’ instructing her never to tell what they’ve seen. When Miranda remembers the image of the rabbits as an adult, immediately it is replaced by a vision of Paul, ‘‘whose childhood face she had forgotten, standing again in the blazing sunshine, again twelve years old, a pleased sober smile in his eyes, turning the silver dove over and over in his hands.’’

Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Porter succeeds in creating vivid portraits of real people, and she excels both in revealing her characters' emotions and in evoking the emotions of readers. The heroine of "The Grave" is Miranda, who some critics consider to be representative of Porter. Miranda is telling the story as an adult woman, but remembering back to a time when she was nine years old, a time when she was on the brink of womanhood and ripe to learn about the life-giving capabilities of her body. Though the climax of her transformation takes place that day in the open graves, the lesson Miranda learns in the cemetery that day takes thirty years to take root. One of the themes Porter explores in this work of fiction is the notion of transformation as a continuing process. Miranda's resurrection of memory affirms the importance of the past and its connection to the future.

The memory Miranda resurrects is of the day, when at the age of nine, she goes on a hunting trip with her brother. Miranda, has a childlike curiosity, and when the children spy the family cemetery on their way to the hunting ground, she eagerly enters the cemetery to explore the open graves. She sees nothing macabre about the open graves but plays delightfully among them. She finds the graves rather intriguing, and she is fascinated all the more when...

(The entire section is 1,678 words.)