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Last Updated on August 20, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 353

The Distance Between Legacy and Reality

Old Mortality is focused on questions of death and legacy and what the legacies that we inherit mean for our processes of self-discovery. Miranda is fascinated by photographs, keepsakes, and stories that give her windows into what her various relatives were and are like—Cousin Eva, Uncle Gabriel, and her late Aunt Amy especially.

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Miranda's Uncle Gabriel sends letters and poetry that talk about Aunt Amy's death as if it were a glorious event that freed her from the chains of "Old Mortality." Aunt Amy also seems to have subscribed to an exaggerated, romantic view of things. Within the span of a week, Aunt Amy goes from a wild-partying young girl to complaining that she is old and chained down by her marriage to Uncle Gabriel, sentiments she recorded shortly before her death. Over and over, Miranda sees that her family members are not as beautiful as they have been described, not as pious as they are supposed, and so on.

This realization of the difference between how her family appears in photographs and stories versus how they are in reality leads to Miranda's disillusionment with her ideas about good and evil. Ultimately, she must abandon her once-clear sense of how things should be, which had been part of her childhood naivety. By the end of the novel, she is left with more questions than answers.

Growing Up as a Process of Discovery

The process of growing up and beginning to understand the difference between stories and reality can easily put someone into conflict with their family and community. Miranda gains a greater understanding of her family and the ways in which the stories she's been raised on are not entirely accurate. As this happens, she's pushed to figure out her own position within her family. She starts to consider this as part of an open process, rather than treating the continuation of her family legacy as a given necessity. Death continues to be the background for much of this process—the ultimate assurance that change will always happen and that clean, simple answers cannot hold up for long.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 396

Contrasting images of life and death form an essential background to Miranda’s early years. Some impressions are grasped directly and others are gathered only at second hand, as visible artifacts or in others’ recollections. Taken together, her views of the people around her suggest separate and distinct ways of life, which appear to the young girl fleetingly and in fragments. These types are presented unobtrusively, and nowhere are they disjoined from the people who embody them.

Aunt Amy, who died nine years before Miranda was born, left enduring memories that are revealed in parts to the young girl. The now almost legendary glory and sorrow of her short life are the more poignant for the coincidental, slightly garbled manner by which Miranda learns about the events of Amy’s brief existence. Her aunt...

(The entire section contains 749 words.)

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