Monday, February 14, 2011
"The Old Order" by Katherine Anne Porter plus notes on An Interesting Old Collection of Short Stories
I have been wanting to read a short story by Katherine Anne Porter (1890 to 1980, Texas, USA) for a while now. Her most famous work is the novel, Ship of Fools. Book sales and sales of the film rights for this book made her financially independent. She won in in 1966 the Pulitzer Price and the National Book Award (these are the two top American Book Awards) Her work will be covered by copyright law in the USA until 70 years after her death so it is not possible to read much if any of her work online. Her best work is now considered to be her short stories. Wikipedia has an very well done article on her.
"The Old Order", like many of Porter's stories, deals with race relations in a post Civil War America. It took me a few paragraphs to understand the setting of "The Old Order". It takes place on a small farm in the American South right after the American slaves have been freed. The farm is managed by what seems to be a kind and considerate woman. Many of the women in this era were war widows. One of her slaves curses her terribly as she leaves for an unknown free future somewhere. Her oldest slave, Nannie, who her father bought for $20.00 stays with her mistress as she had no where else to go. The owner and the slave are nearly the same age and grew up together. They ave indulged in kind of a grim contest of seeing who could have the most children! Many slaves stayed with their masters all their lives.
Porter just does a wonderful ever so subtle job of capturing the relationship of the two women, one a slave or ex-slave and the other her owner. When the slaves brag about how much they cost it was very moving to see how they had been trained to accept the values of their masters. The slave woman wonders why God has been so cruel to her race? She fears this cruelty make extend into the after life but her mistress insures her she is destined for heaven. Of course this brings to mind debates about the use of Christian religious tenants to pacify and control slaves by telling them all will be right in the next world.
In the story we see the struggles of the women to survive when they move to Texas. We get a real feel for their relationship. "The Old Order" is a very good story. It may have language that would make it controversial as a class room book in some countries. If I had to, I will say that I prefer Bowen, Mansfield, or Woolf to this story but I am very glad I read it. From this collection I will next post on a story by Eudora Welty.