Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Old Order is a collection of seven sketches or short stories concerning the life of a rural Texas family ruled by Sophia Jane, the matriarch and mother of eleven children. The first half of the collection deals with Sophia Jane and her African American servant and companion, Nannie. Their relationship comprises the closest bond in the family, more so even than that between Sophia Jane and her children. The second part of the collection concerns itself with the family of Harry, one of Sophia Jane’s favorite children, and in particular the development of Miranda, the youngest of his three children. Miranda, probably the most widely known of Porter’s characters, appears again in two of her most famous stories, “Old Mortality” (1940) and “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” (1939). The psychological development of the soon-to-be independent young woman, loosely based on Porter herself, is the overall focus of the work: The reader sees Miranda’s character as a direct outgrowth of her grandmother’s will, a transformed and modernized version of feminine strength and endurance.

The structure of the stories reinforces the idea of development and growth. The first story, “The Source,” emphasizes the dominance of the grandmother in the family setting. Primarily a sketch of the family’s yearly summer migration to the family farm in the Texas countryside, “The Source” briefly details Sophia Jane’s traits. Each summer, the grandmother would become restless in town and would load up the entire family to travel to the farm. Upon her arrival, Sophia Jane would...

(The entire section is 648 words.)