Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Katherine Anne Porter uses the character of María Concepción primarily to represent the sense of social and moral order thought of as civilization; hence her devotion to her family, to her church, and ultimately to the community. In contrast, María Rosa’s honey and seduction represent passion or the temptation to disrupt or destroy social and moral order. In the resolution of the deadly conflict between the two women, Porter seems to suggest that civilization and the mores of Christianity serve more as a facade than as an actual basis for social order. Ultimately, María Concepción relies on or returns to a more fundamental and primitive code of justice than her new religion teaches.

Porter shows as well the power a community has over people, and how a community will protect or reject a person for the sake of the larger organization. This communal rule is accomplished by the old women who watch María Concepción’s actions throughout the story—especially María Rosa’s guardian, Lupe, who is at first against María Concepción, yet later protects her from the gendarmes.

Finally, Porter comments on patriarchy and patronization in the characters of Givens and Juan. Although Givens claims to care for his workers, he neither understands them nor takes them seriously. Juan, who is often saved and jokingly warned against infidelities by Givens, is incapable of taking his own actions to heart. The only time he becomes a man is when María Concepción’s power, derived from the religion of the patriarchal structure they must live in, breaks down. When the danger is past, he returns to his passivity, and María Concepción to her rightful household rule.