"Holiday" by Katherine Anne Porter originally appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in December 1960 but received more attention when it was included in The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter in 1965. The story, however, had much earlier origins; Porter first wrote "Holiday" in the early 1920s, based on a personal experience she had had several years earlier. Unsatisfied with the story, she set it aside and did not rediscover it until 1960, when she enlisted a friend to help her organize her personal papers. As she wrote in her introduction to The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter, "the story haunted me for years and I made three separate versions, with a certain spot in all three where the thing went off track. So I put it away … and I forgot it. It rose from one of my boxes of papers, after a quarter of a century, and … I saw at once that the first [version] was the right one." After a few minor changes, she sent it to the Atlantic Monthly. She won an O. Henry prize for the story in 1962.
"Holiday" tells the tale of a young woman who, seeking to escape her troubles, takes a holiday to a rural Texas farm owned by a very traditional German family. The story centers on her relationship with the family's deformed and crippled servant girl. Later she discovers the girl is actually the eldest daughter of the family, though she is virtually a slave in the household. The main character's fascination and identification with this girl allows Porter to explore themes of alienation, isolation, and the complete sacrifice of an individual for the good of the greater community (in this case, the family). Like much of Porter's work, the story is drawn from her own experiences, and many critics believe that the main character (whose name the reader never learns) is Porter herself, describing her own alienation as a woman artist in a patriarchal society.
The main character of "Holiday" begins the story by telling readers that this was a time in her life when she was "too young for some of the troubles" she was having (though she never specifies exactly what the troubles are). Wanting to escape these troubles, she decides to take a holiday to the country. She confides this desire to her friend Louise, who exclaims that she has the perfect place: a Texas farm run by a traditional German family. While the narrator is skeptical of Louise's idyllic description of the farm ("Louise had … something near to genius for making improbable persons, places, and situations sound attractive") she agrees to the idea, and a few days later she arrives at the Müller farm.
When she arrives at the station and surveys the "desolate mud-colored, shapeless scene," she feels justified in her skepticism. A boy of about twelve arrives and drives her to the farm in a ramshackle old wagon. At the farm, she meets the busy Müller family, including Mother Müller, a sturdy, imposing woman with a face "brown as seasoned bark." The oldest daughter is Annetje, the middle daughter Gretchen, and the youngest is Hatsy. The narrator is shown to her attic room by Hatsy, and after seeing her charming room—"For once, Louise had got it straight"—her attitude towards her holiday begins to improve. She enjoys the sounds of German being spoken in the home, because she does not speak German, and no one will expect her to understand or respond.
At dinner, the men of the family—Father Müller, his two sons, and the husbands of his daughters, who all live together at the farm—sit at the table, while the women stand behind them and serve them. The narrator, being a guest, is seated at the men's side of the table. It is at dinner on her first night at the farm that she first encounters Ottilie, a badly deformed and mute servant girl who cooks and serves the meal. She is ignored by the Müllers as she serves their dinner: "no one moved aside for her, or spoke to her, or even glanced after her when she vanished into the kitchen."
It does not take long for the narrator to settle...
(The entire section is 1,425 words.)