Pale Horse, Pale Rider

by Katherine Anne Porter

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Masterpieces of Women's Literature Pale Horse, Pale Rider Analysis

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The manner of “Old Mortality” and “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” is intimate, as if the narrator were almost inside the character of Miranda, which is not surprising in view of the fact that Porter uses the character to present a version of her own experiences. The action of “Old Mortality” is seen in terms of its effect on the two sisters, but chiefly Miranda. The sisters are not at the center of the action until the latter part of the story, but the behavior of Aunt Amy, Gabriel, and the other figures is seen in terms of its impact on them.

In “Pale Horse, Pale Rider,” Miranda is the central character, the focus of all the narration, and in several places the narration becomes an internal monologue which conveys the delirium that accompanies her illness. This is especially important because it is in those passages that Miranda imagines death, in terms of a song remembered from her childhood, as a pale rider coming for her on horseback. It is also in one of those passages that the fevered imagery based on wartime hatred of Germans comes to be focused on the doctor in Miranda’s own fever. The tragic mood of the ending of the story is made especially moving by the contrast between Miranda’s deep depression and the elation of the other characters at the ending of the war.

“Noon Wine,” in contrast to the other stories, is told by an omniscient narrator who has no emotional commitment to any of the characters. Helton is in some ways the most sympathetic figure, but that is because he is a helpless victim of the despicable Hatch. On the other hand, he is clearly abnormal, playing the “Noon Wine” tune over and over on the harmonica, which is the only thing he seems to value. Moreover, he has killed his own brother and his handling of the Thompson’s sons is harsh, if not brutal. Thompson is feckless and stupid, his wife a weakling, his sons crude and in other ways much like their father. Thompson’s suicide, like his fruitless attempts to justify himself to his neighbors, is more an act of weakness than one of remorse or sorrow.

The power of all three novellas is in Porter’s use of detail and her depiction of character. The members of Miranda’s family are very much individuals, defined by traits of character or dress. In “Pale Horse, Pale Rider,” the people Miranda meets in the course of her work are highly individualized, while Adam, a kind of dream lover, is deliberately made a stock romantic figure, too good to be real in the sense that the other characters are real. The wartime atmosphere is especially convincing in its ugly fervor, which is made to seem an infection like the influenza that is rampant in the community and in the country. The details of farm life provide a firmly realistic backdrop for the violent action in “Noon Wine.”

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Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series Pale Horse, Pale Rider Analysis


Critical Context