Style and Technique
The narrator draws us into “The Grave” through several layers of time and seemingly disjointed events, each layer revealing more than the one before, like the layers that conceal the baby rabbits. At the story’s close, the reader, like Miranda, discovers continuity. By returning to a previous time and place, the frame shows that the present leads back into the past as easily and as naturally as the past moves into the present.
“The Grave” is remarkable for its naturalness of tone, part of which comes from its subtle shifts in point of view. Porter’s third-person narrator begins the story objectively, but as the story unfolds, one is drawn deeper into Miranda’s consciousness, for example, by the narrator’s reference to Paul as “Brother” during the rabbit episode. At the end, one discovers through Miranda’s mind’s eye the connection between the previous experiences.
The story’s organic blend of character, event, symbol, and metaphor can be attributed in part to its autobiographical nature: In 1902, young Porter and her brother found a small dove and a ring in their grandfather’s grave. Thus, not only did Porter employ real objects and events in the story, but she also carried the event in her mind for some three decades before it emerged and was reborn into fiction.
Reconstruction Era in the South
The period following the Civil War in the South was a tumultuous one. Although Abraham Lincoln had favored a more forgiving approach to reuniting the states, following his assassination more radical Republicans took over, eventually managing Southern state governments by military rule. Already defeated in the Civil War, the South was further humiliated by the continued forcible domination of the North. By 1890, just a decade before the setting of ‘‘The Grave,’’ the South was ranked last in every category when compared to other regions: lowest in per capita income, lowest in public health, lowest in education. For Southerners who could remember the glory of the South before the Civil War, this was a great blow to their pride.
In the early twentieth century, the women’s movement picked up steam with the push to give women the vote. The suffrage movement had been growing since the mid-1800s, beginning with the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention on women’s rights headed by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. That movement was closely related to the abolitionist movement—women who supported civil rights for African Americans also began to demand civil rights for themselves. Not until 1914, however, did the voting rights amendment have any realistic chance of succeeding, and from then until its eventual ratification in 1920 the question of women’s rights was one of the most hotly debated topics in public discourse. Having gained the right to vote, women were still considered second-class citizens in both domestic and professional life, although some outspoken women—who were often vehemently chastised—continued to work for increased freedom for women. For example, Eleanor Roosevelt, during her twelve years as First Lady (1933– 1945), insisted that only female reporters cover her, to extend opportunities for female journalists.
In the 1920s and 30s, as Porter began her fiction-writing career, artists and intellectuals in the United States increasingly moved to the left politically, allying themselves with socialism, communism, and sometimes the Communist Party, and with the growing labor movement of the early twentieth century. Communism was also a force in the political upheavals of Mexico, which Porter documented as a journalist, marked by a concern for the Indian laboring classes. Socialist rhetoric of the area was characterized by class antagonism and frustration with the power of an entrenched establishment— an old order—versus laborers and smallscale farmers, such as Porter’s father. Flirtation with radical politics was quite common among the cultural elite of the...
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