Since we will not have the chance to discuss “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” again in class, this post will be a bit longer than usual.
For those of you who missed the waffles and class discussion, we are first going to briefly talk about narration, which is a topic that we touched upon on Saturday.
Porter employed free indirect discourse, a narrative technique where we cannot differentiate between the narrator and the characters. At the end of the novel, the narrator’s voice is fused with the voice of Miranda as we cannot distinguish who says “a ghost but more alive than she was, the last intolerable cheat of her heart” (208). Miranda also imagines herself through other people, such as the young couple in the bar, and as the narrative voice is filtered through other voices, this creates another layer of obscurity. Since this narrative layer blurs the line between Miranda and the society she observes, the question of whether it is possible to separate oneself from a social formation is one to be raised.
Miranda’s voice and personality allows the reader see things from a female perspective. Her voice brings feminism to light, by showing objection to patriarchy. For instance, she showed resistance, in a male dominated society, when she was being coerced to pay the bond. She also claps back when Adam makes an allusion of roles being gender specific (157). Other parts of the text portrays Miranda’s tastes in a way the female audience can relate. Also, mentioning her tastes and ability to make sole decisions of what she wants on her shopping list shows the power the author gives the narrator, Miranda, in the text.
This contrasts with the strength of another female character, Mrs Alving, in Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts, that we’ve discussed in class. Mrs. Alving, unlike Miranda, cannot make sole decisions and her life is based on the norms of the society and the partriachical display of her husband and Manders. Both texts were written by authors of different genders and judging by the outcome, it becomes clear how the masculine gender sees females or the position the masculine gender wishes to place females. This raises the question: Do we only relate to people’s struggles if we have walked/are walking their path, just as Porter is able to relate to feminism and give the female character a voice? It would also be interesting to see how a female writer portrays the character of a woman.
Building off this question of the author’s experience and whether it feeds into the short novel, something else we didn’t touch on extensively in class is the fact that this book is to a large extent autobiographical; it is reported that Porter almost died of the Spanish flu in 1918 in Denver. Given this fact, one can question the legitimacy of this work as a history — or historiography, rather — of the Spanish flu in America during the war.
In a 2013 article titled ‘Trauma, Influenza, and Revelation in Katherine Anne Porter’s “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”’, Laurel Bollinger discusses this issue of autobiography. She cites some contemporary critics who read “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” “as a record of the trauma itself (whether personal or communal) rather than on the degree to which Porter creates a highly structured and carefully fictionalized version of the experience” (366). Seeing the story as a psychological/traumatic narrative that explores the infected self — more of an anthropological and psychological exploration — can be well-supported by the narrative technique employed by Porter, and
However, Bollinger is interested in exploring this relationship between fiction and autobiography. She argues that is exactly that fusion between truthful societal accounts and personal experience that strengthen the narrative, which is then ultimately tied together through biblical allusions:
[H]istorian Alfred Crosby describes the novella as “the most accurate depiction of American society in the fall of 1918 in literature. It synthesizes what is otherwise only obtainable by reading hundreds of pages of newspapers” (318). Porter offers similarly precise descriptions of the impact of the flu, both on her own body and on the victims who surrounded her. Yet far from simply recording what LaCapra worries will be “confused or undisciplined thought,” Porter’s hybridized account of the events takes its power specifically from its fusion of the autobiographical and the fictional as she works through the trauma by turning to the mythic. … Looking back on her memories over twenty years later, Porter depends upon biblical allusions, particularly to the Book of Revelation, to give shape and presumably meaning to her experiences (370).
Another significant element of this book is death and its the role throughout the story. One instance where the meaning of death is juxtaposed is in one of the multiple dreams that Miranda has throughout the text. In this dream, Miranda yearns for death as it is an escape from her worldly life and unwanted relationships; she wants to be transported to a world that would rid her of these inconveniences. But it is also apparent that she flees from death when she states “This journey I do not mean to take” (142). Here, we see her hesitation about actually facing death as well as its consequences. This is interesting as it shows the uncertainty that comes along with making decisions that are absolute as nobody really knows what the result of them could be. This juxtaposition also reveals the contemplative and uncertain nature of her thoughts — it could be interesting to refer back to religion in this case and see how much she does indeed draw from Christian beliefs when she evaluates the concept of death.
If you made it all the way through here — thank you! We hope this post generates some questions and food for thought. Enjoy your break!