Tracing the initiation motif in Katharine Anne Porter's "Miranda stories" uncovers her maturing protagonist's search for order and personal truth. Miranda's inward journey ultimately leads not to nihilism and despair, as some critics suggest, but to an honest and courageous affirmation of the independent spirit.
Porter's fiction involving Miranda and her family background reveal varying stages of this maturing that, together with parallel theories of initiation, fall into critic Mordecai Marcus' paradigm of initiation types. The "tentative" initiation stories only brush the child Miranda's awareness and deal primarily with the external world. They include "The Circus," marking an "emotional" initiation in which Miranda questions false adult sympathy and sensory illusion; "The Fig Tree," marking an "intellectual" initiation in which Miranda questions superstition and traditional authority while celebrating her natural curiosity; and "The Grave," marking a "sexual-role" initiation (both tentative and decisive) in which Miranda ponders her own sexuality and the natural cycles of birth and death.
The novella Old Mortality explores an "incomplete" initiation in which the protagonist, though still naive in many ways, moves inwardly and more consciously to self-knowledge. Disillusioned with her family's fraudulence, the teenager Miranda relinquishes her family and her ancestral South, determined to rely instead on immediate, personal experience for truth.
The novella Pale Horse, Pale Rider and the story "Holiday" both fall under "decisive" initiations, for the protagonist attains a much clearer self-definition than before and a worldview that will permanently shape her adulthood. In Pale Horse, the young woman Miranda, struggling to preserve her integrity, nevertheless encounters duplicity not only within society but within herself, a discovery that culminates in a confrontation with her own mortality. Still, her eventual survival points to the validity of her choice for separation or transcendence rather than integration into a society that only hinders her growth.
Miranda's limited triumph in Pale Horse is more complete in "Holiday." Here Miranda learns to accept more fully and even celebrate her outsider status in light of her essential humanity and her place in nature. Porter's character thus achieves a final, admirable stature in this initiatory journey into adulthood.
Master of Arts (MA)
Year Degree Awarded
Date (Title Page)
Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings
Porter, Katherine Anne, 1890-1980 -- Characters -- Women; Porter, Katherine Anne, 1890-1980 -- Criticism and interpretation.
Loma Linda University Libraries
This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.
Lobdell, Anne, "A Journey Inward : Initiation in Katherine Anne Porter's Miranda Stories" (1985). Loma Linda University Electronic Theses, Dissertations & Projects. 1079.
Loma Linda University Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives