Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 380
In “Noon Wine,” Katherine Anne Porter brings people to life in scenes filled with physical detail and realistic dialogue. The characters are given human qualities in an attempt to make them more than abstract representations of fallibilities. Their actions, thoughts, and words make them seem like ordinary people. The general qualities that they represent are made more intense by the specific situations that are skillfully depicted. Each scene also foreshadows future events. Thus, the tragedy is made credible.
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An early scene shows the intimacy between the Thompsons. A debate over the merits and faults of Helton leads to a mock quarrel. Mr. Thompson pinches his wife, suggesting that she is too lean for his taste in woman. She retaliates by pulling his hair and calling him evil-minded. This playful domestic episode illustrates the close relationship they share and increases the tragic effect of their inability to communicate at the end of the story.
Another revealing incident is Mrs. Thompson’s witnessing of Helton’s attack on the boys for playing with his harmonicas. Hatch later reveals that Helton’s brother had been murdered for a similar offense. Helton’s irrational response to the molestation of his harmonicas is a foreshadowing of the madness that recurs with the appearance of Hatch.
Even Hatch reveals a typical human trait when he engages Thompson in a discussion on tobacco. This subject, however, does not relieve the farmer’s misgivings about the stranger. Hatch offends him by insisting that the use of sweetened tobacco is a sign of cheapness. Thompson likes sweet tobacco, and he thinks that the man is trying to humiliate him. He thinks about shoving Hatch off the stump in the hope that he might fall on the ax. Before long, the knife and the ax do come into play. Hatch’s propensity for offending others appears even in casual conversation. Thompson, put on the defensive, reacts violently.
Every scene, then, leads to the confrontation between Hatch and Thompson and to the disastrous aftermath. The weaknesses of the characters make their downfall unavoidable; their individual traits make them credible as human beings. Although the pessimism of this tragedy of the human condition is dominant, the impact of its message is softened by the engaging manner in which the story is told.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 195
In Noon Wine, Porter uses third person narration to highlight the interior lives of Mr. and Mrs. Thompson at crucial times during a nine year period. Mr. Thompson's skirmish of values when he first hires Helton, a foreigner, and his interior monologues about his failure as a farmer show his limitations as a narrator. The assessment he makes of Hatch when he first sees him prepares the stage for his fuzziness about what really happens when he strikes the man.
Parallel settings for the opening scene and the confrontation with Hatch reinforce the reader's readiness for a momentous occurrence. Both scenes take place in brutal heat, which befuddles Thompson's perception, and both take place in the side yard of the farmhouse, a relatively isolated area. Mr. Thompson's premonition of disaster also prepares the reader for the attack on Hatch.
The briefly but clearly documented decline of the Thompsons' family life after the murder and trial prepares the way for Thompson's suicide. When his sons, depicted as frolicking puppies at the story's opening, are suddenly grown men judging him guilty both of murder and violence toward his wife, Mr. Thompson can stand his life no longer.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 156
Porter had stated in her "Reflections on Willa Cather" (1952) that all true art is provincial, firmly rooted to its specific time and place. In much the same way as Cather had done in O Pioneers! (1913) and My Antonia (1918), Porter examines the potential for tragic moral struggle and deep emotions in supposedly "simple" people.
Porter's regional stories, such as "He," "Holiday," and "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall," draw a vivid portrait of the hard life on Texas farmland, never presenting its inhabitants as quaint or dull. The harsh demands of combatting nature and winning a living from it leave no room for folksiness and gentle humor as in earlier Southern local-colorists like Joel Chandler Harris and his Uncle Remus tales. The literary heritage that Porter draws upon has much in common with that of Thomas Hardy and his Tess of the D'Urbevilles (1891), in which nature's harshness toward man is often mirrored in man's harshness toward his fellows.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 172
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