Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The most significant technique is the superb control over point of view, so that characters reveal themselves at the moments of greatest stress. The editorializing function of the narrator is therefore all-important, but it must not seem to be too heavy-handed in manipulating the narrative voice. Porter ensures that the characters’ points of view are woven into the narrative in a manner that is consistent and artful. In the first place, she uses narrated monologue rather than other forms of interior monologue, pruning away the unnecessary tags of thinking and saying as well as the signals of quotation. The end result is that the reader “hears” the man and woman in their private voices, when in fact what constitutes the narrative transmission is an aggregate of points of view that mixes the narrator’s and characters’ voices and which is richly composed of idiom and colloquialism, exclamations, repetitions, and circumlocutions—in short, all the features of a mind instantly verbalizing. In this way, the reader experiences with freshness and immediacy the thoughtless ease with which they wound each other: “Oh, would he please hush and go away, and stay away, if he could, for five minutes? By all means, yes, he would. He’d stay away indefinitely if she wished.”

Ultimately, language itself becomes both the theme and the style, causing them to merge into each other with precise diction and economy of choice so that—for all its density and capacity to communicate—the reader experiences this vitriolic exchange of language and realizes that these two cannot say what they most want to say, and that language is itself the source and barrier to a true communication. To this end, Porter makes use of a wide array of the forms of language: from mild profanities (emblematic of their hellish relationship), through a kind of subvocal level (indicated by the narrator’s allusions to her feline responses of hissing and clawing), to, finally, that level of self-communion in which the husband will seek to explain his wife’s behavior and their crumbling marriage to himself.

Last, there is the narrator’s ambiguous silence, looking on dispassionately, allowing things as well as characters to speak for themselves; perhaps this is best exemplified in the lonely bird in the crab apple tree with all its bittersweet allusiveness, suggestive of another Garden and expulsion from it into a hostile and disorderly world.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Austenfeld, Thomas Carl. American Women Writers and the Nazis: Ethics and Politics in Boyle, Porter, Stafford, and Hellman. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Katherine Anne Porter: Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House, 1986.

Brinkmeyer, Robert H. Katherine Anne Porter’s Artistic Development: Primitivism, Traditionalism, and Totalitarianism. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993.

Busby, Mark, and Dick Heaberlin, eds. From Texas to the World and Back: Essays on the Journeys of Katherine Anne Porter. Fort Worth: TCU Press, 2001.

Fornataro-Neil, M. K. “Constructed Narratives and Writing Identity in the Fiction of Katherine Anne Porter.” Twentieth Century Literature 44 (Fall, 1998): 349-361.

Givner, Joan. Katherine Anne Porter: A Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982.

Hartley, Lodwick, and George Core, eds. Katherine Anne Porter: A Critical Symposium. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1969.

Spencer, Virginia, ed.“Flowering Judas”: Katherine Anne Porter. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1993.

Stout, Janis. Katherine Anne Porter: A Sense of the Times. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995.

Walsh, Thomas F. Katherine Anne Porter and Mexico. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992.