Places: Pale Horse, Pale Rider

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1938, as short story (collected in Pale Horse, Pale Rider, 1939)

Type of work: Novellas

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Old Mortality, 1885-1912; Noon Wine, 1836-1905; Pale Horse, Pale Rider, 1918

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*South Texas

*South Pale Horse, Pale RiderTexas. Both Old Mortality and Noon Wine use Texas as their settings, but the Texases depicted in these stories are very different. Old Mortality is the first of Porter’s “Miranda” stories, generally agreed to be the most openly autobiographical portions of her work. The story is suffused with the culture of the Deep South, opening with a picture of Miranda’s dead Aunt Amy, whose idealized and romanticized memory continues to haunt the family. The family that Porter constructs for Miranda is in many ways the family Porter tries to give herself. While Porter was raised by her grandmother on a south Texas ranch on which money was tight, Miranda lives in something like a plantation, filled with books and music and dancing.

By contrast, Noon Wine features a hardscrabble Texas ranch far out in the country, inhabited by the decidedly nonaristocratic Thompson family. In all likelihood, the reality of Porter’s childhood is probably closer to this picture than to the one she constructs for Miranda. In contrast to the southern sensibilities implicit in Old Mortality, Noon Wine offers the life of plain dirt farmers trying to eke out livings from the soil. The isolation of the ranch provides a sense of the frontier rather than the flavor of the antebellum South.

*Deep South

*Deep South. The idea of the South plays a prominent role throughout Old Mortality. For example, New Orleans figures as the center of society for Miranda’s family. The city plays a triple role in the story: It is the place where Amy dies after her marriage, the location of the convent school that Miranda and her sister later attend, and the site of Miranda’s last glimpse of her Uncle Gabriel. In New Orleans, Miranda sees Gabriel not as the mythologized gallant of family memory, but as a drunk and seedy racer of horses. By offering these contrasts, Porter demonstrates how the mythology of the Deep South may be at odds with its reality.

Western city

Western city. Unnamed city in the American West used in another Miranda story, Pale Horse, Pale Rider. Details in this story allow readers to identify Denver as the story’s setting, although the city is never specifically named. During World War I, Porter lived in Denver, where she worked as a theater editor of the Rocky Mountain News–the same job she gives her character Miranda. It is also in the unnamed city that Miranda contracts the dreaded Spanish influenza, just as Porter did in Denver in 1918. Pale Horse, Pale Rider opens by connecting Miranda to her Texas roots. In a prophetic dream, she rides her horse Graylie across the plains in a race against the “pale rider,” death. Her waking reality in the unnamed city assumes a dreamlike fugue state as she perceives herself and those around her through the fog of the influenza that is overwhelming her body.

Porter’s choice of the unnamed western city is an important one for the story. The city is clearly in a place of natural beauty. In addition, the city seems remote from the rest of the country. The vaudevillians Miranda reviews refer to the city as the “boondocks.” These edenic images contrast starkly with the reality the rest of the country faces. Porter’s use of the isolated Western city lets her demonstrate how deeply World War I infiltrates even the lives of common people living at the edges of their culture.

In many ways, the evil of the war is present metaphorically in the unseen, deadly virus that ravages not only the large coastal cities but the interior of the country as well. Moreover, the pestilence kills indiscriminately, soldiers and civilians alike, in their very homes, thousands of miles from the front lines. The cost of the war is higher than anyone could have expected, and Porter’s story, with its dreamy, impressionistic prose brought about by Miranda’s illness, explores life and death and life after death.

BibliographyBloom, 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.
Categories: Places