Porter, Katherine Anne
|Genre||Short Story (28 pp.)|
|Keywords||Death and Dying, Disability, Empathy, Family Relationships, Grief, Loneliness, Mother-Daughter Relationship, Mourning, Suffering|
The narrator needs a break from her unnamed troubles, so, on the recommendation of a friend, travels to a Texas farm to live with a German-American family for the month of March. The Muller extended family members are hard-working folk, at times gruff and laconic, but who clearly care for and love one another. The narrator is intrigued by the servant girl, Ottilie, who although disabled, disfigured and mute, cooks and serves meals for the twenty members of the household.
Ottilie later shows the narrator a photograph from her childhood, and the narrator (and reader) is startled to find out that not only was Ottilie a normal child, but she is also the eldest daughter of the matriarch and patriarch. Many of life’s milestones are encapsulated in the month, including a wedding, a birth, a natural disaster, and finally the death of Mother Muller. The family continues to ignore Ottilie and her suffering; in the end, only the narrator reaches out to aid Ottilie in her grief.
This story provides an excellent example of what empathy means; the narrator calls it a "filament lighter than cobweb" that connects her with Ottilie and that makes "the painfulness and strangeness of her" vanish. Porter notes enigmatically in the preface that she struggled with this story for 25 years, due to "my own moral and emotional collision with a human situation I was too young to cope with at the time it occurred" but that over time, "it had in the course of living settled itself so slowly and deeply and secretly I wondered why I had ever been distressed by it."
|Source||The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter|
|Publisher||Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: A Harvest Book|
|Place Published||San Diego|
|Annotated by||Shafer, Audrey|
|Date of Entry||05/02/96|