(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In The Old Order, Porter in many ways lays the foundation of the character of Miranda. Having previously portrayed Miranda as an adult in “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” and as an adolescent in “Old Mortality,” Porter moves backward in time in the fashion of a psychoanalyst. Unlike Sigmund Freud, however, Porter neither discovers nor reveals any “primal scene,” or primary trauma, to serve as a single source explaining Miranda’s character. Instead, she offers a complex picture of race, gender, and sibling relations, all of which serve as an influence on the impressionable young Miranda.

Much of the discussion of race concerns the old generation more than it does Miranda, but the cause-and-effect relationship can be seen in the character of the adult Miranda (or the adult Porter, who based Miranda upon her own experiences as a child growing up in Texas). At first, the story of Sophia Jane, Nannie, and Uncle Jimbilly resembles the patriarchal depiction of race relations often described in plantation fiction. Porter, however, adds disturbing detail after disturbing detail, which combine to counteract the patriarchal myth. Sophia Jane originally scandalized the family by putting Nannie’s name into the family Bible and listing her as a black relation. The incident is passed over as a childish misunderstanding, but it returns in intensity when Sophia Jane nurses one of Nannie’s children, giving the child equal treatment with her own. This event illustrates the equal footing of Nannie and Sophia Jane, which in turn is undercut after Sophia Jane’s death. Nannie, whose affection for the family apparently does not extend past Sophia Jane, leaves the household for an independent old age. Not the loyal freed slave of plantation fiction, she prefers independence and respect to paternalistic treatment.

Equally complicated are...

(The entire section is 760 words.)