Analysis of “The Grave” by Katherine Anne Porter “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” (The Holy Bible English Standard Version, Romans 3:23). This verse is stating that everyone has fallen from grace, no one has maintained holiness. This idea is exactly what Katherine Anne Porter is trying to convey in her short story, “The Grave. ” Porter is “known for her use of religious allusions and symbolism because of her Catholic background” (Rooke, Wallis 269).
Because of this, it is no surprise that in “The Grave” she uses symbolism and an allusion to man’s original fall from grace in a seemingly simple story of the inevitable loss of grace.
From the beginning the story is dripping with symbolism. The name of the main character itself is symbolic. Rooke and Wallis stated that the name Miranda “obviously recalls the Miranda from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which made the name almost a synonym for innocence” (269). By naming her character Miranda, Porter has already established the innocence of her character.
Porter then moves to describe the rebirth of her character by using the graves. DeMouy said, “The earth of course is feminine, and the open graves in the fecund soil suggest the womb” (91). When Porter says, “She scrambled out [of the grave], over a pile of loose earth that had fallen back into one end of the grave…” (363), she is describing a rebirth, a change from what Miranda once was. In this case she is undergoing the change from innocence to worldliness.
The graves symbolize rebirth in another way, “They are no longer the resting place of dead bodies, but a playground for children- new life in the face of death” (Overview of “The Grave” 78). In addition to being reborn from a symbolic womb, Miranda finds a dove within the grave which is “a symbol for of innocence…” (Rooke ,Wallis 270). Once she comes up cradling her innocence, she notices that her brother has “found a wedding ring (a specific Freudian symbol of marriage and sex)” (270). Porter wrote, “She was smitten with the sight of the ring and wished to have it” (363).
Her brother had the knowledge of sex that Miranda did not and she instantly wanted to have it. Miranda had the innocence that Paul wanted. The two switched treasures. Miranda symbolically received worldly knowledge, “With the gold ring on her dirty thumb, she is linked to everything it symbolizes: the preciousness of her virginity and the promise of marriage” (DeMouy 92). When the two children left the garden they continued on their hunting journey. They were carrying Winchester rifles which “are phallic, and the use of them is an indicator of masculine potency” (91).
Miranda had “no proper sense of hunting” (Porter 364). This inability to wield the phallic rifle reveals her feminine side which has been slowly brought forward since she traded in her innocence. As she went along with Paul, she was “in her summer clothes” (Porter 364). This implies that it is summer. Summer has to do with adulthood, romance, fulfillment, and passion. This is another clue that her innocence is a thing of the past. As their journey continues Paul spots a rabbit and kills it instantly. The rabbit naturally is “a symbol of innocence” (DeMouy 92).
The death of this creature symbolizes the death of Miranda’s innocence. When Miranda leans in to absorb all of the worldly knowledge she has gained she begins trembling as she starts to realize the fullness of what she has learned, “Her innocence transforms instantly into an irreversible awareness of both birth and death” (Overview 81). Porter’s use of symbolism to define Miranda’s loss of innocence subtly emphasized the great change that occurred. Bringing Miranda full circle from as innocent as a dove to as corrupted as a mangled and bloodied mother rabbit.
The strong symbolism brings gives depth to this “simple” story that otherwise would not be seen. Porter also alluded to man’s original fall from grace. The story begins in “a pleasant small neglected garden of tangled rose bushes and ragged cedar trees and cypress…” (Porter 362). Gardens, especially of this variety, beg for comparison to Eden, the sacred garden in the well-known story of Adam and Eve. “Cedar and cypress trees- certainly found in Texas, are most commonly associated with the Middle East, the very location of the sacred garden” (Rooke, Wallis 269).
The fact that this language is being used to describe a cemetery causes the description to stand out. Which leads to the realization that the use of the garden description at all is used to suggest that “there will be a fall” (Overview 81). Miranda had been more than happy to play and “scratch about aimlessly and pleasurably as any young animal” (Porter 363), but as soon as she had given up her innocence in the form of the dove and accepted knowledge about sex and marriage she felt like a “trespasser in the cemetery that was no longer theirs” (Porter 362).
This is a direct reference to the original fall from grace in that “as Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, so Paul and Miranda feel like trespassers and know they must leave” (Rooke, Wallis 270). Once they had left they begin hunting. This is another allusion to Adam and Eve in that once they were banned from the garden, they had to fend for themselves, living off the land (Genesis 3:14). As they went on hunting, Miranda said she’d like to “have the first snake” (Porter 364). The mention of the snake “is so clearly artificially obtruded… it makes the association with the fall unavoidable” (DeMouy 270).
Just as the snake led Eve to the tree of knowledge, “shortly after Miranda mentions the snake, she gets her first taste of forbidden knowledge” (Overview 81). The unavoidable allusion to man’s original fall from grace only accentuates the radical fall that Miranda had herself. Porter strategically placed this reference to guide the reader to the conclusion that Miranda had lost something she could never regain, just as Adam and Eve did. Also, with the use of such a well-known story, this outcome would occur almost subconsciously to a society in which this story has been woven into the culture. The fall of man itself is the pattern of a primal existence in the life of each individual” (Rooke, Wallis 269). Katherine Anne Porter recognized this in her coming of age story “The Grave. ” The rich symbols used emphasize the extent of the fall that her character had undergone and describe the events of this fall on a much deeper level than would be achieved with unvarnished language. The allusion to the fall from grace effectively caused a subconscious connection to the all too familiar story of Adam and Eve.
This connection, along with magnifying the extent of the fall, describes the simple idea that this event has occurred in every human life since the beginning of humanity. Porter’s appliance of these two literary devices brings depth and meaning to what would otherwise be a nearly meaningless story of a young girl. Works Cited DeMouy, Jane Krause. Katherine Anne Porter’s Women: The Eye of Her Fiction. University of Texas Press, 1983. 139-144, Rpt. in Short Stories for Students. Ed. Jennifer Smith. Vol. 11. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. 90-92. PDF. Overview of “The Grave. Short Stories for Students. Ed. Jennifer Smith. Vol. 11. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. 78-87. PDF. Porter, Katherine Anne. The Collected Stories Of Katherine Anne Porter. Austin Texas: Mariner Books, 1965. Print. Rooke, Constance, and Bruce Wallis. “Myth and Epiphany in Porter’s ‘The Grave’. ” Studies in Short Fiction 15. 3 (Summer 1978): 269-275. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism. Ed. Jenny Cromie and Justin Karr. Vol. 43. Detroit: Gale Group, 200. Literature Resource Center. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. The Holy Bible English Standard Version ESV. 2007. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2007. Print.
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