(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.)


(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.)