Katherine Anne Porter's Miranda Stories: A Commentary on the Cultural Ideologies of Gender Identity

By Frankwitz, Andrea K. | The Mississippi Quarterly, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Katherine Anne Porter's Miranda Stories: A Commentary on the Cultural Ideologies of Gender Identity


Frankwitz, Andrea K., The Mississippi Quarterly


IN DISCUSSIONS OF THE TREATMENT OF WOMEN in Katherine Anne Porter's short stories, critics almost invariably examine the recurring character of Miranda. Typically, scholars such as William L. Nance and John Edward Hardy focus on how her grandmother's "matriarchal tyranny" has been a shaping influence in Miranda's psychological development as a female, but one should not so readily accept this term as an appropriate label for the ideology the grandmother represents. (1) Rather, the generations of women in Miranda's life represent first a passive acceptance of patriarchal culture and then a paradoxical rebellion against it. In the sequence "The Old Order," "Old Mortality," and "Pale Horse, Pale Rider," Porter not only fictionalizes parts of her own life through the character of Miranda but also depicts a reshaping of the cultural ideologies surrounding gender roles and the formation of identity. (2) Those characters who represent either a willing submission to the patriarchal view of gender or a paradoxical rebellion against it in "The Old Order" and "Old Mortality" serve to show Miranda the repressive nature of this cultural ideology. In charting Miranda's maturation through these two sets of stories and "Pale Horse, Pale Rider," one may discern her gradual disillusionment with the patriarchal ideology of gender and her steady movement toward a self-fashioned identity free from social constructs.

Miranda's first encounter with cultural ideologies of gender comes through her grandmother, who signifies a passive acceptance of the patriarchal order. Generally, the ideologies of a patriarchal system are symbolized and propagated through male characters, but females also may uphold them. What is traditionally associated with the patriarchy is not only the reinforcement of an absolute truth, dualistic thinking, authority, and a hierarchical order but also the privileging of the masculine over the feminine, and the idea that men and women have fixed places and roles in society. Contrary to Darlene Harbour Unrue's contention that Miranda's grandmother shows contradictory philosophical ideas in learning to do men's work but disapproving of her daughter-in-law's modern ways as a "new" woman, the grandmother remains consistent in her adherence to the traditional patriarchal ideology. (3) While a surface-level examination of "The Old Order" may seem to indicate that the grandmother, Sophia Jane, is rebelling against these ideological codes of behavior and thinking, she is, in fact, subtly and, perhaps naively, perpetuating them.

From young adulthood on, Sophia Jane lives her life, not according to her own inner beliefs but in recognition of, and acquiescence to, patriarchal gender roles. For example, she dreams repeatedly that she has lost her virginity--"her sole claim to regard, consideration, even to existence"--and then wakes in terror and disorder. (4) Her belief that virginity and virtue are synonymous and that they are the measurement of her worth as a woman certainly belongs to what Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar call "patriarchal aesthetics"--which want a girl to be a passive chaste maiden and "the eternally beautiful, inanimate objet d'art." (5) Sophia Jane hears that her cousin Stephen acts a little wild, "but that was to be expected. He was leading, no doubt, a dashing life full of manly indulgences, the sweet dark life of the knowledge of evil.... All, the delicious, the free, the wonderful, the mysterious and terrible life of men!" (p. 335). Sophia Jane's thoughts reflect the patriarchal ideology of gender, which reinforces the feminine as subordinate and the masculine as authority.

Although some critics, such as Shirley Scott and William L. Nance, argue that Sophia Jane rebels against the patriarchy and advocates feminism or androgyny--because she is a woman and does a "man's" work in cutting timber and plowing fields--she, on the contrary, passively reinforces the patriarchal ideology of gender. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Katherine Anne Porter's Miranda Stories: A Commentary on the Cultural Ideologies of Gender Identity
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.