(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Much of “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” is autobiographical; the story recalls an event from Katherine Anne Porter’s life. During World War I, Porter worked as a reporter in Denver. There she met and fell in love with a lieutenant. She then contracted influenza during the epidemic and nearly died. “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” is her attempt to record that experience.

“Pale Horse, Pale Rider” begins with a dream sequence about the story’s central concern: death. Miranda, Porter’s autobiographical heroine, dreams of being pursued by death. Miranda, however, awakes to a world that is as terrifying as her nightmare. World War I is raging, and an influenza epidemic is sweeping the country. Added to this trauma is the stress of her job. As a drama critic for the local newspaper, Miranda must attend plays and vaudeville shows; she must also face performers she has panned. The only stable component of Miranda’s life is Adam Barclay, the young officer with whom she has fallen in love.

Miranda’s relationship with Adam, however, is intense rather than calming. Miranda and Adam know that Adam, who is waiting for his orders to go to war, may not return. Although both know this, neither will acknowledge the possibility to the other. By not talking about the possibility of Adam being killed in the war, both seek to deny the possibility. Their mutual denial makes their encounters frantic and desperate.

The instability of Miranda’s...

(The entire section is 446 words.)

Pale Horse, Pale Rider Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story begins in a first-person dream sequence with a southern gothic setting, complete with a five-times-removed cousin, a decrepit hound, horses used for fox hunting, and a “stranger” who will ride with the speaker at dawn. As the narrative shifts to the third person and Miranda wakes up to her dreary job on a small-town paper, her problems with adjusting to reality are shared by the reader, who is never given any clearer explanation of Miranda’s past and its relation to her present situation.

Although both past and future are only suggested, the present is depicted in grimly realistic detail. Miranda’s colleagues on the paper are a collection of semifailures, all haunted by a sense of inadequacy and badgered by a Liberty Bond seller who is not above real as well as moral blackmail. The war is the overpowering external reality, dictating proper conduct for everyday actions from drinking coffee to knitting.

Miranda’s conflict with the external reality of the war arises from her attempts to establish and maintain an internal sense of personal order and priority. Her struggles are illustrated by encounters with the Liberty Bond salesperson, an actor whose performance she reviewed negatively, men at the hospital where she does volunteer work, and with Adam, the man with whom she is in love. Miranda’s mind shrinks from the external reality of the war, but—as her internal sense of priorities is not firmly established—finds no other clear focus; thus, she always seems to be thinking about something other than the matter at hand.


(The entire section is 645 words.)

Pale Horse, Pale Rider Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Old Mortality. Miranda and her sister Maria, age eight and twelve years, respectively, live after the death of their mother with their father and grandmother. Legends of the family’s past surround them in the house, especially tales of their dead Aunt Amy, whose melancholy photograph hangs on the wall.

According to the story, Amy had toyed with the affections of her fiancé Gabriel by appearing scantily dressed at the Mardi Gras with another man. Harry, Amy’s father, defended her honor by shooting the man. Amy and Gabriel married, and six weeks later, Amy died of consumption (tuberculosis). Although the two young sisters understand now that some details are untrue, they continue to believe the story.

Two years later, after their grandmother dies, the girls are sent to a convent school where, to relieve the sedate life, they read romantic novels. Except for Saturday afternoons, when their father sometimes appears, they are cut off from life. One Saturday, their father takes them to the racetrack, where their Uncle Gabriel’s beautiful horse is entered in a race. Instead of the romantic figure of the family’s legends, Miranda sees that Gabriel is an alcoholic who lives in a slum hotel with his second wife. The horse, rather than winning elegantly, ends the race trembling and bleeding at the nose.

Eight years later, Miranda, now married, returns to Texas to attend Gabriel’s funeral. On the train, she meets her cousin, Eva, who tells her about Gabriel and Amy. Eva refutes every romantic family legend with realistic details of Amy’s scandalous behavior and death from tuberculosis. When they arrive, Miranda finds herself distanced from her father. When Eva and he begin to speak of the past, Miranda vows she will face the truth and leave her fictions behind.

Noon Wine. As Royal Earle Thompson churns milk on the porch one day, a stranger arrives and, in an English unfamiliar to the Texas farmland, asks for work. Thinking the man will work cheaply and do all the nasty chores on the small dairy farm, Thompson hires him. Olaf Helton speaks almost not at all, even at dinner with Thompson, his wife, and two sons. All he reveals is that he is a Swede from North Dakota and that he knows how to make butter and cheese. He also plays the harmonica, the same tune over and over.

After a while, the farmhand’s strangeness ceases to bother the Thompsons, especially Mr. Thompson, who sees his farm prosper with Helton’s work. The cows and chickens are cared for, the yards are cleaned up, and the income from dairy products increases. He and his wife try repeatedly to make conversation with...

(The entire section is 1086 words.)