Pale Horse, Pale Rider

by Katherine Anne Porter

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Pale Horse, Pale Rider

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OLD MORTALITY centers on Miranda’s memories of childhood. She remembers especially how her family idealized Aunt Amy, making her a legend of Southern womanhood after the Civil War. Ironically, Amy is shown to be a free-spirited woman who was trapped into a conventional marriage. When Miranda sees how Amy is trapped, her faith in romantic legend is shaken. Miranda wants to be free of convention. She wants to be an airplane pilot, to know the truth about her own life, and still to be loved by her family. This short novel shows the degree to which Miranda is caught between these contrary desires.

In NOON WINE, Mr. Thompson’s good luck seems to begin the day he hires Mr. Helton, a strange, quiet, and very competent Swede. Thompson is failing because dairy farming offends his sense of dignity and order, but Helton takes everything in hand. Years later, Mr. Hatch, a bounty hunter, comes to take Helton back to the North Dakota insane asylum from which he escaped. Trying to protect Helton, Thompson kills Hatch. Thompson wants to believe that killing Hatch was right, but he cannot. Oppressed by inescapable guilt, Thompson finds his family and his life falling apart. Powerless to restore their lost happiness, Thompson commits suicide.

PALE HORSE, PALE RIDER is the most complex of these three novellas. In 1918, Miranda feels she has lost everything and, therefore, that she will lose her beloved Adam, too. She nearly dies in the influenza epidemic which kills Adam. Even though she does not know he is dead, she is tempted, during her delirium, to give up her life. War and plague point to a fundamental chaos that she believes rules life. After her recovery, she is still torn between the need to erect illusions, such as the legend of Aunt Amy, as a defense against chaos, and her desire to face squarely the truth about life.


Bloom, Harold, ed. Katherine Anne Porter. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. Explains Porter’s complex use of symbolism and irony. Asserts that the dream sequences of the Miranda stories reveal the unexpressed causes of her discontent.

DeMouy, Jane Krause. Katherine Anne Porter’s Women: The Eye of Her Fiction. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983. A feminist reading of Porter’s fiction, this book argues that Porter is a precursor of later feminism in her concentration on female characters trying to live independently in a world dominated by men.

Givner, Joan. Katherine Anne Porter: A Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982. Explores key events that affected Porter’s work. Explains the connection, for example, between Porter’s near death experience and Pale Horse, Pale Rider.

Hendrick, George. Katherine Anne Porter. Boston: Twayne, 1965. Details Porter’s life and works. Explores the theme of innocence and experience in the stories in which Miranda appears.

Hilt, Kathryn. Katherine Anne Porter: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1990. A listing of all Porter’s works and the books and essays written about her through the mid-1980’s.

Lopez, Enrique Hank. Conversations with Katherine Anne Porter: Refugee from Indian Creek. Boston: Little, Brown, 1981. Stories about Porter’s life as she told them to the man who was her companion during the last years of her life.

Unrue, Darlene Harbour. Truth and Vision in Katherine Anne Porter’s Fiction. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985. Lists criticial sources. Studies the themes of Porter’s fiction, asserting that her works have a thematic unity built around Porter’s understanding of truth.

Warren, Robert Penn, ed. Katherine Anne Porter. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1979. A collection of essays about Porter’s work, by a variety of critics.

West, Ray. Katherine Anne Porter. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1963. Sets the novellas in the context of Porter’s Southern background. Develops the idea that historic memory uses myths to portray truths.

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Critical Evaluation