Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Final Essay

Comparing and Contrasting "Miriam" and "Children on Their Birthdays"

“I realized that I wanted to be a writer. But I wasn't sure I would be until I was fifteen or so. At that time I had immodestly started sending stories to magazines and literary quarterlies. Of course no writer ever forgets his first acceptance; but one fine day when I was seventeen, I had my first, second, and third, all in the same morning's mail. Oh, I'm here to tell you, dizzy with excitement is no mere phrase!”. Truman Capote wrote a lot of stories, he started writing when he was five years, although he said he was sure of being a writer when he was fifteen. In this essay, I will compare and contrast two of his stories, “Miriam” and “Children on Their Birthdays”, that explore the idea of how extraordinary events break the routines and monotony of ordinary lives,

“Miriam” is the story of an old woman called Mrs. Miller who lives alone in a monotonous way until Miriam, a little girl, appears. On the other hand, “Children on Their Birthdays” is the story of a dusty town where nothing happens, and unexpectedly, Miss Bobbit appears to change the town’s destiny. Some of the concepts that are important in order for me to explain my thesis statement are the following: the archetype, the routine and the ordinary and extraordinary events.

First, an archetype, as defined by the Dictionary Reference, means the original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based, is seen in the stories in the way the two little girls break with this archetypical idea that people have about the innocence of a child. Second, a routine, as defined by the Dictionary Reference, means the common place tasks, chores, or duties as must be done regularly or at specific intervals; typical or everyday activity, is seen in the stories in the way the characters present in them, are somehow plunge in a monotonous life. Third, ordinary events, as defined by the Dictionary Reference, means something of no special quality or interest; common place; unexceptional. These events are seen in the stories in the way that people lives their lives in an expected way, thinking nothing extraordinary canould happen., and tThese extraordinary events, as defined by the Dictionary Reference, means something that goes beyond the usual, regular or establish events, are seen in the stories in the way that there are some events that break with the routinely life of people because it is something that regularly, isn’t expected, it’s a surprise.

“Miriam” and “Children on Their Birthdays” have some common elements that can be compare. For example, the idea of the archetypical little girl, a lovely and kind little girl, full of innocence, that never gets in trouble, everyone loves her, etc. This idea is broken by the author in the way that he plays with this impression people has and twist the roles, so, this little innocent girl, will be evil as Miriam is, or could be like an adult trapped in a kid’s body, as Miss Bobbit is. Miriam, the little girl present in “Miriam”, is someone that likes to play with Mrs. Miller, she bothers her so much that Mrs. Miller gets desperate because of her presence. Miriam always appears to Mrs. Miller to make her life miserable, “I live upstairs and there’s a little girl visiting me, and I supposed that I’m afraid of her. She won’t leave and I can’t make her and –she’s going to do something terrible. She’s already stolen my cameo, but she’s about to do something worse –something terrible!” (Capote, 48). This quote shows how Mrs. Miller was tired of Miriam because she couldn’t understand her appearances; she was getting crazy because of Miriam.

On the other hand, in “Children on Their Birthdays”, a little girl appears in a dusty town where nothing extraordinary happens and that event, makes people in town gets curious about what can happen with her. Her name is Miss Bobbit, and she is a girl who behaves as a grown up but trapped in a child’s body, “…“My mother is a very fine seamstress; she has made dresses for the society of many cities and towns, including Memphis and Tallahassee. No doubt you have noticed and admired the dress I am wearing. Every stitch of it was hand-sewn by my mother. My mother can copy any pattern, and just recently she won a twenty-five-dollar prize from the Ladies’ Home Journal. My mother can also crochet, knit and embroider. If you want any kind of sewing done, please come to my mother. Please advise your friends and family. Thank you.” And then with a rustle and a swish, she was gone” (Capote, 137). In this quote, we can see how Miss Bobbit talks, if we don’t know she is a little girl, she can be easily confused with an adult. That is how Capote plays with this archetype of an innocent little girl, making the reader thinks about if she is really innocent or not.

These two stories are also related in the way these little girls breaks the routine people have. Miriam, on the one hand, appears to Mrs. Miller to make her conscious about her life and her lost of identity because of the routine she follows. This makes Mrs. Miller gets desperate because of how Miriam appears every day at any time, either she tries to get rid of her, she comes back. Mrs. Miller has a very monotonous life, she has plans for every week, and these appearances of Miriam will help her to find her identity once again, as she hads lost it because of her routinely life. On the other hand, Miss Bobbit appears in this small town of Alabama and makes people change their lives in the way that everyone want to be like her and with her, because she is very different from the whole people who lives there. These visits of Miss Bobbit will make people think about their own lives and how they are plunge in routines and they do nothing for that. In the case of Miriam, with her intensity, she will make Mrs. Miller realizes about her boring life and about the way she had lost her identity because of being part of the mass of people instead of being someone else, someone who stands out between people. ““… For the only thing she had lost to Miriam was her identity, but now she knew she had found again the person who lived in this room, who cooked her own meals, who owned a canary, who was someone she could trust and believe in: Mrs. H. T. Miller” (Capote, 49). Also, Miss Bobbit makes people understand how they can do different things so they won’t be just part of theanother mass who lives in a routinely world. Although she dies, her death helps in the way that people wake up from the dream they were having of perfection because of the life they were having where nothing ever happens. Of course Billy Bob and Preacher, the two guys that fell in love with her and fight for her, will be friends no longer, but they fell down in the her game because of being different.

In both stories, the way of writing is similar, Capote uses very detailed scenes to make the reader feels the atmosphere and imagines it. For example, for the characterization, Capote uses direct and indirect characterization for both stories. For “Miriam”, for example, she uses direct characterization, giving concrete characteristics of the character, for describing how Miriam looks like: “Her hair was the longest and strangest Mrs. Miller had ever seen; absolutely silver-white, like an albino’s. It flowed waist-length in smooth, loose lines. She was a simple, special elegance in the way she stood with her thumbs in the pockets of a tailored plum-velvet coat” (Capote, 38). But also he uses it in “Children on Their Birthdays” for describing how Miss Bobbit looks like: “…for out of the red road dust appeared Miss Bobbit. A wiry little girl in a starched, lemon colored party dress, she sassed along with a grown-up mince, one hand on her hip, the other supporting a spinsterish umbrella.” (Capote, 135).

Capote also uses indirect characterization, which means a description of the character’s personality or information through actions, words, thoughts, in “Miriam” is seen, for example where Capote expresses what Mrs. Miller do, “Her activities were seldom spontaneous: she kept the two rooms immaculate, smoked an occasional cigarette, prepared her own meals and tended a canary” (Capote,37). And on the other hand, in “Children of Their Birthdays” it is also seen when Miss Bobbit talks and acts: “Miss Bobbit came tearing across the road, her finger wagging like a metronome; like a schoolteacher she clapped her hands, stamped a foot, said: “It is well-known fact that gentlemen are punt on the face of this earth for the protection of ladies. Do you suppose boys behave this way in towns like Memphis, New York, London, Hollywood or Paris?”…” (Capote, 142).

Finally, we can say that the visits of these two girls were unexpected but, in a certain way, required, because they were extraordinary events that breaks with an ordinary life, full of routines and boring events, and this helps people realized about how boring can be a monotonous life could be, in which whatever that couldan happen is known, that the unexpected things will never happen. I think that as Capote lived in a routinely life, being extraordinary because of his natural talent on writing but having no one that realizes that, madkes him wroite about the importance of breaking the routine and appreciates the many little things that someone can have or do, to make every day be as if it was the last one.


Dictionary Reference. 2011. June 21th 2011 <>.

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Dictionary Reference. 2011. June 21th 2011 <>.

Capote, Truman. The complete stories of Truman Capote. New York: Vintage Internacional, 2005.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Literary elements present in "Children on Their Birthdays"

Theme – First love

Characters – Miss Bobbit, Sister Rosalba, Aunt El, Billy Bobby, Cora McCall, Mrs. Sawyer, Ollie Overton, Mr. Henderson, Manny Fox, Miss Adelaide, and Mr. Buster Riley

  • Direct: “…for out of the red road dust appeared Miss Bobbit. A wiry little girl in a starched, lemon colored party dress, she sassed along with a grown-up mince, one hand on her hip, the other supporting a spinsterish umbrella.” (Capote, 135) 
  • Indirect: “…“My mother is a very fine seamstress; she has made dresses for the society of many cities and towns, including Memphis and Tallahassee. No doubt you have noticed and admired the dress I am wearing. Every stitch of it was hand-sewn by my mother. My mother can copy any pattern, and just recently she won a twenty-five-dollar prize from the Ladies’ Home Journal. My mother can also crochet, knit and embroider. If you want any kind of sewing done, please come to my mother. Please advise your friends and family. Thank you.” And then with a rustle and a swish, she was gone.” (Capote, 137)
Introduction: There is a town, where nothing ever happens and then, a little girl called Miss Bobbit arrives.
Conflict: All the guys fall in love with her.
Climax: Miss Bobbit finds a little girl from Africa, Sister Rosalba, who is as different as Miss Bobbit is in the town
Anticlimax: The boys fight for Miss Bobbit, a friendship that seems so strong, is broken by this little girl
End: A bus ran over Miss Bobbit

Causality – As Miss Bobbit was so different, all the boys fell in love with her

Foreshadowing – Circular story, you know the end as it is said in the beginning

Mood - Drama

Resolution/Denouement – Miss Bobbit’s death makes everyone return to their lives and makes them stop thinking about a change and the extraordinary things.

Setting –Small town in Alabama

Point of View – third person

Narrator – omniscient

Capote, Truman. The complete stories of Truman Capote. New York: Vintage Internacional, 2005.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Literary elements present in "Miriam"

Theme – The consciousness of people
Characters - Mrs. Miller, Miriam.
Characterization – The story has two types of characterization; on the one hand, direct characterization as seen in Miriam’s first description:.
  • “Her hair was the longest and strangest Mrs. Miller had ever seen; absolutely silver-white, like an albino’s. It flowed waist-length in smooth, loose lines. She was a simple, special elegance in the way she stood with her thumbs in the pockets of a tailored plum-velvet coat” (Capote, 38)
The other type of characterization is indirect, which means a description of the character’s personality or information through actions, words, thoughts, etc.
  • “Her activities were seldom spontaneous: she kept the two rooms immaculate, smoked an occasional cigarette, prepared her own meals and tended a canary” (Capote,37)

  • Introduction: Mrs. Miller lives alone in a house, where she has a routinely life. She had plans for every day; it was the same plan for each week.
  • Conflict: Someday, Mrs. Miller goes to the movies where she finds a little girl that calls her attention, asking her if she could buy a ticket for her.
  • Climax: Since that day in the movies, Miriam starts visiting Mrs. Miller; she arrives at Mrs. Millers’s house and from that day on, Miriam appears to Mrs. Miller every day, making her become tired of those visits because they break with her routine.
  • Anticlimax: This happens when Mrs. Miller tells Miriam to go away from her house, letting her alone for her to continue with the routine.
  • End: It seems that Miriam disappeared and she wouldn’t come back, but when Mrs. Miller was already calm down, Miriam reappears.
Causality – The permanent visits of Miriam lead to Mrs. Miller’s desperation

Foreshadowing – Miriam appears

Mood - Suspense

Resolution/Denouement – Mrs. Miller finds herself again, her identity
  • “… For the only thing she had lost to Miriam was her identity, but now she knew she had found again the person who lived in this room, who cooked her own meals, who owned a canary, who was someone she could trust and believe in: Mrs. H. T. Miller” (Capote, 49)
Setting – Mainly, Mrs. Miller’s house:
  • “Mrs. Miler entered her apartment softly; she walked to the center of the room and stood quite still. No, in a sense it had not changed: the roses, the cake, and the cherries were in place. But this was an empty room, emptier than if the furnishings and familiars were not present, lifeless and petrified as a funeral parlor. The sofa loomed before her with a new strangeness: its vacancy had a meaning that would have been less penetrating and terrible had Miriam been curled on it” (Capote, 4 9)
Point of View – third person

– Limited omniscient: All-knowing narrator about one or two characters, but not all

Personification - Miriam

Symbolism – Miriam symbolizes death

Capote, Truman. The complete stories of Truman Capote. New York: Vintage Internacional, 2005.

Truman Capote's Questions

a. What is “Miriam” about? Did you like it? Why or why not? What elements did you enjoy the most? Why?

b. What are the articles about? What generalizations can you make of what you have read?

c. From what you have read so far, what do you think are Capote’s most important features? Why?

“Miriam” by Truman Capote reports the idea of Mrs. Miller’s life and how her consciousness appears as a little girl, Miriam. Mrs. Miller is an old woman who lives alone in a boring routine, so Miriam appears to break this monotony and to show Mrs. Miller how her life is and how she should be aware of what is happening to her.

I didn’t like this story because although it has many details that don’t let you stop reading it, it is so fictional that it can become a little bit boring. As I said before, the idea of the character development, how he describes the characters, gets you involved in the story.

On the other hand, the articles about Truman Capote talk about how he writes, his written works and all the story of how he becomes famous. In general, Truman Capote has a natural talent for writing, he did his first writing when he was five years old and since then, he wrote during all his life.

Truman Capote writes in a very particular way, he uses many details for explaining the characters and the atmospheres, and these descriptions being so long, keep the reader’s attention, so he/she won’t be able to stop reading. Capote also describes the characters by showing examples instead of telling how they really are, what makes the reader’s mind imagine them.

In the stories he writes, he uses many elements of syntax, such as the length of the sentences or the changes in the tenses for the story not to be boring, but a different kind of text. These elements he uses are very important because that is what makes different the stories regarding other authors.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Literary Elements

Short Stories/Novel

Theme - The idea or point of a story formulated as a generalization. In American literature, several themes are evident which reflect and define our society. The dominant ones might be innocence/experience, life/death, appearance/reality, free will/fate, madness/sanity, love/hate, society/individual, known/unknown. Themes may have a single, instead of a dual nature as well. The theme of a story may be a mid-life crisis, or imagination, or the duality of humankind (contradictions).

Character - Imaginary people created by the writer. Perhaps the most important element of literature.
Protagonist - Major character at the center of the story.
Antagonist - A character or force that opposes the protagonist.
Minor character - 0ften provides support and illuminates the protagonist.
Static character - A character who remains the same.
Dynamic character - A character who changes in some important way.
Characterization - The means by which writers reveal character.
Explicit Judgment - Narrator gives facts and interpretive comment.
Implied Judgment - Narrator gives description; reader make the judgment.

Look for: Connections, links, and clues between and about characters. Ask yourself what the function and significance of each character is. Make this determination based upon the character's history, what the reader is told (and not told), and what other characters say about themselves and others.

Plot - The arrangement of ideas and/or incidents that make up a story.
Causality - One event occurs because of another event.
Foreshadowing - A suggestion of what is going to happen.
Suspense - A sense of worry established by the author.
Conflict - Struggle between opposing forces.
Exposition - Background information regarding the setting, characters, plot.
Complication or Rising Action - Intensification of conflict.
Crisis - Turning point; moment of great tension that fixes the action.
Resolution/Denouement - The way the story turns out.

Structure - The design or form of the completed action. Often provides clues to character and action. Can even philosophically mirror the author's intentions, especially if it is unusual.

Look for:
Repeated elements in action, gesture, dialogue, description, as well as shifts in direction, focus, time, place, etc.

Setting - The place or location of the action, the setting provides the historical and cultural context for characters. It often can symbolize the emotional state of characters.

Point of View - Again, the point of view can sometimes indirectly establish the author's intentions. Point of view pertains to who tells the story and how it is told.

Narrator - The person telling the story.
First-person - Narrator participates in action but sometimes has limited knowledge/vision.
Objective - Narrator is unnamed/unidentified (a detached observer). Does not assume character's perspective and is not a character in the story. The narrator reports on events and lets the reader supply the meaning.
Omniscient - All-knowing narrator (multiple perspectives). The narrator takes us into the character and can evaluate a character for the reader (editorial omniscience). When a narrator allows the reader to make his or her own judgments from the action of the characters themselves, it is called neutral omniscience.
Limited omniscient - All-knowing narrator about one or two characters, but not all.

Language and Style - Style is the verbal identity of a writer, oftentimes based on the author's use of diction (word choice) and syntax (the order of words in a sentence). A writer's use of language reveals his or her tone, or the attitude toward the subject matter.

Irony - A contrast or discrepancy between one thing and another.
Verbal irony - We understand the opposite of what the speaker says.
Irony of Circumstance or Situational Irony - When one event is expected to occur but the opposite happens. A discrepancy between what seems to be and what is.
Dramatic Irony - Discrepancy between what characters know and what readers know.
Ironic Vision - An overall tone of irony that pervades a work, suggesting how the writer views the characters.


Allegory - A form of narrative in which people, places, and events seem to have hidden meanings. Often a retelling of an older story.

Connotation - The implied meaning of a word.

Denotation - The dictionary definition of a word.

Diction - Word choice and usage (for example, formal vs. informal), as determined by considerations of audience and purpose.

Figurative Language - The use of words to suggest meanings beyond the literal. There are a number of figures of speech. Some of the more common ones are:
Metaphor - Making a comparison between unlike things without the use of a verbal clue (such as "like" or "as").
Simile - Making a comparison between unlike things, using "like" or "as".
Hyperbole - Exaggeration
Personification - Endowing inanimate objects with human characteristics

Imagery - A concrete representation of a sense impression, a feeling, or an idea which appeals to one or more of our senses. Look for a pattern of imagery.
Tactile imagery - sense of touch.
Aural imagery - sense of hearing.
Olfactory imagery - sense of smell.
Visual imagery - sense of sight.
Gustatory imagery - sense of taste.

Rhythm and Meter - Rhythm is the pulse or beat in a line of poetry, the regular recurrence of an accent or stress. Meter is the measure or patterned count of a poetry line (a count of the stresses we feel in a poem's rhythm). The unit of poetic meter in English is called a "foot," a unit of measure consisting of stressed and unstressed syllables. Ask yourself how the rhythm and meter affects the tone and meaning.

Sound - Do the words rhyme? Is there alliteration (repetition of consonants) or assonance (repetition of vowels)? How does this affect the tone?

Structure - The pattern of organization of a poem. For example, a sonnet is a 14-line poem usually written in iambic pentameter. Because the sonnet is strictly constrained, it is considered a closed or fixed form. An open or free form is a poem in which the author uses a looser form, or perhaps one of his or her own invention. It is not necessarily formless.

Symbolism - When objects or actions mean more than themselves.

Syntax - Sentence structure and word order.

Voice: Speaker and Tone - The voice that conveys the poem's tone; its implied attitude toward its subject.

College, Roane State Community. The Online Writing Lab (OWL). s.f. June 17th 2011 <>.

Analysis video

The video of Truman Capote, first begins with him talking about calling a lawyer because of all the jokes the rest of the people told about him (other videos) so here, it is shown how he uses the daily events or his own life to tell jokes about people and facts. He is the “Man of the week”, and he is trying to make people laugh about daily events that we did not notice at all.

Analysis interview

This interview to Truman Capote, starts with the story of how he began to write when he was ten or eleven and that his first, second and third acceptances were from short stories that for him, is the most exciting writing style. He talks about the way to write short stories, he gives some examples and then he talks about the encouragements he had for writing.

Capote says that when he reads one of his first works, “Other Voices, Other Rooms” he doesn’t feel he is the same person as he was in that time, it has the same intensity but as he grew older, his mentality and interior temperature are extremely different, so he feels as a total stranger to that book.

Capote talks about the way he writes and how the environment or emotions he has influences his writing works and how when he lived in Europe, it helped him to grow up but he will always return home because that is where he belongs. He also talks about his work in films, how he works in a funny way.

He talks about how he writes, “I can't think unless I'm lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy” and names himself as a stylist while writing because he writes in pencil and proofreads also in pencil but becoming obsessed with grammar issues, as comas or semicolons. After doing this, he types the work in a specific yellow paper, while he’s still lying down, and after doing it he puts the manuscript away for a while and in a certain time he reads it to see what he wants to change. Capote has the whole book in his head; the beginning, the middle and the end, but surprises happen, unexpected words or sentences that give a certain difference to each story.

He finishes the interview by saying that criticism helps before being published; once it is published the only thing he wants to hear is good things about the story. Finally, the “superstitiousness” he has

“I have to add up all numbers: there are some people I never telephone because their number adds up to an unlucky figure. Or I won't accept a hotel room for the same reason. I will not tolerate the presence of yellow roses—which is sad because they're my favorite flower. I can't allow three cigarette butts in the same ashtray. Won't travel on a plane with two nuns. Won't begin or end anything on a Friday. It's endless, the things I can't and won't. But I derive some curious comfort from obeying these primitive concepts.”

Analysis "Truman Capote: About the author"

This article is about Truman Capote’s work, how he started writing and created the New Journalism style. Truman Capote had a lot of interest and passion in writing he started writing in the New Yorker Magazine where, after publishing “Miriam”, the editor of the magazine made him sign a contract with Random House, where he published his first book, “Other Voices, Other Rooms”. Having a lot of critiques about this book, he answered them by saying that he was doing a research of another book “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, which took him a lot of time in which he would recall the experiences he lived while publishing his first book and becoming famous.

Nevertheless, Capote wasn’t happy enough, he wanted to write different kinds of stories, like a journalistic text, so he went to Kansas to learn from the people that lived there and the assassinations that had happened. “I wanted to produce a journalistic novel, something on a large scale that would have the credibility of fact, the immediacy of film, the depth and freedom of prose, and the precision of poetry”; he created “In Cold Blood”, which was the story that gave him all his fame. Capote was so delighted by the success of his novel that he began to write “Answered Prayers”, but the publication of the first chapters was so bad and so criticized that he stopped writing it, although he said he was writing it. After his death, everyone thought that this novel would be published, but there was no evidence of his work.

Analysis about "Miriam"

"Miriam" by Truman Capote reports the story of Mrs. Miller, who has a lonely life and finds a little girl who calls her attention in different ways. Miriam is the name of this girl and she was always looking for Mrs. Miller's company.
Mrs. Miller feels repelled and attracted to Miriam because Miriam makes her realize about her loneliness of which she wasn't aware. For example, when she goes to the movies, she leaves a light burning in her house, because for her  there is nothing more disturbing than that feeling of loneliness she had. Also, Mrs. Miller feels attracted to Miriam because she is her company during these days, and that had never happened to her.
Miriam can be related with Mrs. Miller's death in the way that every time she appears to Mrs. Miller, it snows,  showing the feeling of loneliness and death as it is white and cold.
And finally, if we take into account that only Mrs. Miller can see Miriam, we can say that she is part of her imagination, because she is used by Capote to explain life lessons, as she has been a symbolism for Mrs. Miller's consciousness

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Video of Truman Capote

«Youtube.» September 27th 2009. Truman Capote on Dean Martin Roast. June 16th 2011 <>.

Interview by Paris Review

Truman Capote lives in a big yellow house in Brooklyn Heights, which he has recently restored with the taste and elegance that is generally characteristic of his undertakings. As I entered he was head and shoulders inside a newly arrived crate containing a wooden lion.
“There!” he cried as he tugged it out to a fine birth amid a welter of sawdust and shavings. “Did you ever see anything so splendid? Well, that's that. I saw him and I bought him. Now he's all mine.”
“He's large,” I said. “Where are you going to put him?”
“Why, in the fireplace, of course,” said Capote. “Now come along into the parlor while I get someone to clear away this mess.”
The parlor is Victorian in character and contains Capote's most intimate collection of art objects and personal treasures, which, for all their orderly arrangement on polished tables and bamboo bookcases, somehow remind you of the contents of a very astute little boy's pockets. There is, for instance, a golden Easter egg brought back from Russia, an iron dog, somewhat the worse for wear, a Fabergé pillbox, some marbles, blue ceramic fruit, paperweights, Battersea boxes, picture postcards, and old photographs. In short everything that might seem useful or handy in a day's adventuring around the world.
Capote himself fits in very well with this impression at first glance. He is small and blond, with a forelock that persists in falling down into his eyes, and his smile is sudden and sunny. His approach to anyone new is one of open curiosity and friendliness. He might be taken in by anything and, in fact, seems only too ready to be. There is something about him, though, that makes you feel that for all his willingness it would be hard to pull any wool over his eyes and maybe it is better not to try.
There was a sound of scuffling in the hall and Capote came in, preceded by a large bulldog with a white face.
“This is Bunky,” he said.
Bunky sniffed me over and we sat down.

When did you first start writing?
When I was a child of about ten or eleven and lived near Mobile.
I had to go into town on Saturdays to the dentist and I joined the Sunshine Club that was organized by the Mobile Press Register. There was a children's page with contests for writing and for coloring pictures, and then every Saturday afternoon they had a party with free Nehi and Coca-Cola. The prize for the short-story writing contest was either a pony or a dog, I've forgotten which, but I wanted it badly. I had been noticing the activities of some neighbors who were up to no good, so I wrote a kind of roman à clef called “Old Mr. Busybody” and entered it in the contest. The first installment appeared one Sunday, under my real name of Truman Streckfus Persons. Only somebody suddenly realized that I was serving up a local scandal as fiction, and the second installment never appeared. Naturally, I didn't win a thing.
Were you sure then that you wanted to be a writer?
I realized that I wanted to be a writer. But I wasn't sure I would be until I was fifteen or so. At that time I had immodestly started sending stories to magazines and literary quarterlies. Of course no writer ever forgets his first acceptance; but one fine day when I was seventeen, I had my first, second, and third, all in the same morning's mail. Oh, I'm here to tell you, dizzy with excitement is no mere phrase!
What did you first write?
Short stories. And my more unswerving ambitions still revolve around this form. When seriously explored, the short story seems to me the most difficult and disciplining form of prose writing extant. Whatever control and technique I may have I owe entirely to my training in this medium.
What do you mean exactly by “control”?
I mean maintaining a stylistic and emotional upper hand over your material. Call it precious and go to hell, but I believe a story can be wrecked by a faulty rhythm in a sentence— especially if it occurs toward the end—or a mistake in paragraphing, even punctuation. Henry James is the maestro of the semicolon. Hemingway is a first-rate paragrapher. From the point of view of ear, Virginia Woolf never wrote a bad sentence. I don't mean to imply that I successfully practice what I preach. I try, that's all.
How does one arrive at short-story technique?
Since each story presents its own technical problems, obviously one can't generalize about them on a two-times-two-equals-four basis. Finding the right form for your story is simply to realize the most natural way of telling the story. The test of whether or not a writer has divined the natural shape of his story is just this: after reading it, can you imagine it differently, or does it silence your imagination and seem to you absolute and final? As an orange is final. As an orange is something nature has made just right.
Are there devices one can use in improving one's technique?
Work is the only device I know of. Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself. Even Joyce, our most extreme disregarder, was a superb craftsman; he could write Ulysses because he could write Dubliners. Too many writers seem to consider the writing of short stories as a kind of finger exercise. Well, in such cases, it is certainly only their fingers they are exercising.
Did you have much encouragement in those early days, and if so, by whom?
Good Lord! I'm afraid you've let yourself in for quite a saga. The answer is a snake's nest of No’s and a few Yes’s. You see, not altogether but by and large, my childhood was spent in parts of the country and among people unprovided with any semblance of a cultural attitude. Which was probably not a bad thing, in the long view. It toughened me rather too soon to swim against the current—indeed, in some areas I developed the muscles of a veritable barracuda, especially in the art of dealing with one's enemies, an art no less necessary than knowing how to appreciate one's friends.
But to go back. Naturally, in the milieu aforesaid, I was thought somewhat eccentric, which was fair enough, and stupid, which I suitably resented. Still, I despised school—or schools, for I was always changing from one to another—and year after year failed the simplest subjects out of loathing and boredom. I played hooky at least twice a week and was always running away from home. Once I ran away with a friend who lived across the street—a girl much older than myself who in later life achieved a certain fame. Because she murdered a half-dozen people and was electrocuted at Sing Sing. Someone wrote a book about her. They called her the Lonely Hearts Killer. But there, I'm wandering again. Well, finally, I guess I was around twelve, the principal at the school I was attending paid a call on my family, and told them that in his opinion, and in the opinion of the faculty, I was “subnormal.” He thought it would be sensible, the humane action, to send me to some special school equipped to handle backward brats. Whatever they may have privately felt, my family as a whole took official umbrage, and in an effort to prove I wasn't subnormal, pronto packed me off to a psychiatric study clinic at a university in the East where I had my I.Q. inspected. I enjoyed it thoroughly and —guess what?—came home a genius, so proclaimed by science. I don't know who was the more appalled: my former teachers, who refused to believe it, or my family, who didn't want to believe it— they'd just hoped to be told I was a nice normal boy. Ha ha! But as for me, I was exceedingly pleased—went around staring at myself in mirrors and sucking in my cheeks and thinking over in my mind, my lad, you and Flaubert—or Maupassant or Mansfield or Proust or Chekhov or Wolfe, whoever was the idol of the moment.
I began writing in fearful earnest—my mind zoomed all night every night, and I don't think I really slept for several years. Not until I discovered that whisky could relax me. I was too young, fifteen, to buy it myself, but I had a few older friends who were most obliging in this respect and I soon accumulated a suitcase full of bottles, everything from blackberry brandy to bourbon. I kept the suitcase hidden in a closet. Most of my drinking was done in the late afternoon; then I'd chew a handful of Sen Sen and go down to dinner, where my behavior, my glazed silences, gradually grew into a source of general consternation. One of my relatives used to say, “Really, if I didn't know better, I'd swear he was dead drunk.” Well, of course, this little comedy, if such it was, ended in discovery and some disaster, and it was many a moon before I touched another drop. But I seem to be off the track again. You asked about encouragement. The first person who ever really helped me was, strangely, a teacher. An English teacher I had in high school, Catherine Wood, who backed my ambitions in every way, and to whom I shall always be grateful. Later on, from the time I first began to publish, I had all the encouragement anyone could ever want, notably from Margarita Smith, fiction editor of Mademoiselle, Mary Louise Aswell of Harper's Bazaar, and Robert Linscott of Random House. You would have to be a glutton indeed to ask for more good luck and fortune than I had at the beginning of my career.
Did the three editors you mention encourage you simply by buying your work, or did they offer criticism, too?
Well, I can't imagine anything more encouraging than having someone buy your work. I never write—indeed, am physically incapable of writing—anything that I don't think will be paid for. But, as a matter of fact, the persons mentioned, and some others as well, were all very generous with advice.
Do you like anything you wrote long ago as well as what you write now?
Yes. For instance, last summer I read my novel Other Voices, Other Rooms for the first time since it was published eight years ago, and it was quite as though I were reading something by a stranger. The truth is, I am a stranger to that book; the person who wrote it seems to have so little in common with my present self. Our mentalities, our interior temperatures are entirely different. Despite awkwardness, it has an amazing intensity, a real voltage. I am very pleased I was able to write the book when I did, otherwise it would never have been written. I like The Grass Harp too, and several of my short stories, though not “Miriam,” which is a good stunt but nothing more. No, I prefer “Children on Their Birthdays” and “Shut a Final Door,” and oh, some others, especially a story not too many people seemed to care for, “Master Misery,” which was in my collection A Tree of Night.
You recently published a book about the Porgy and Bess trip to Russia. One of the most interesting things about the style was its unusual detachment, even by comparison to the reporting of journalists who have spent many years recording events in an impartial way. One had the impression that this version must have been as close to the truth as it is possible to get through another person's eyes, which is surprising when you consider that most of your work has been characterized by its very personal quality.
Actually, I don't consider the style of this book, The Muses Are Heard, as markedly different from my fictional style. Perhaps the content, the fact that it is about real events, makes it seem so. After all, Muses is straight reporting, and in reporting one is occupied with literalness and surfaces, with implication without comment—one can't achieve immediate depths the way one may in fiction. However, one of the reasons I've wanted to do reportage was to prove that I could apply my style to the realities of journalism. But I believe my fictional method is equally detached—emotionality makes me lose writing control: I have to exhaust the emotion before I feel clinical enough to analyze and project it, and as far as I'm concerned that's one of the laws of achieving true technique. If my fiction seems more personal it is because it depends on the artist's most personal and revealing area: his imagination.
How do you exhaust the emotion? Is it only a matter of thinking about the story over a certain length of time, or are there other considerations?
No, I don't think it is merely a matter of time. Suppose you ate nothing but apples for a week. Unquestionably you would exhaust your appetite for apples and most certainly know what they taste like. By the time I write a story I may no longer have any hunger for it, but I feel that I thoroughly know its flavor. The Porgy and Bess articles are not relevant to this issue. That was reporting, and “emotions” were not much involved—at least not the difficult and personal territories of feeling that I mean. I seem to remember reading that Dickens, as he wrote, choked with laughter over his own humor and dripped tears all over the page when one of his characters died. My own theory is that the writer should have considered his wit and dried his tears long, long before setting out to evoke similar reactions in a reader. In other words, I believe the greatest intensity in art in all its shapes is achieved with a deliberate, hard, and cool head. For example, Flaubert's A Simple Heart. A warm story, warmly written; but it could only be the work of an artist muchly aware of true techniques, i.e., necessities. I'm sure, at some point, Flaubert must-have felt the story very deeply—butnot when he wrote it. Or, for a more contemporary example, take that marvelous short novel of Katherine Anne Porter's, Noon Wine. It has such intensity, such a sense of happening-now, yet the writing is so controlled, the inner rhythms of the story so immaculate, that I feel fairly certain Miss Porter was at some distance from her material.
Have your best stories or books been written at a comparatively tranquil moment in your life or do you work better because, or in spite, of emotional stress?
I feel slightly as though I've never lived a tranquil moment, unless you count what an occasional Nembutal induces. Though, come to think of it, I spent two years in a very romantic house on top of a mountain in Sicily, and I guess this period could be called tranquil. God knows, it was quiet. That's where I wrote The Grass Harp. But I must say an iota of stress, striving toward deadlines, does me good.
You have lived abroad for the last eight years. Why did you decide to return to America?
Because I'm an American, and never could be, and have no desire to be, anything else. Besides, I like cities, and New York is the only real city-city. Except for a two-year stretch, I came back to America every one of those eight years, and I never entertained expatriate notions. For me, Europe was a method of acquiring perspective and an education, a stepping stone toward maturity. But there is the law of diminishing returns, and about two years ago it began to set in: Europe had given me an enormous lot, but suddenly I felt as though the process were reversing itself—there seemed to be a taking away. So I came home, feeling quite grown up and able to settle down where I belong—which doesn't mean I've bought a rocking chair and turned to stone. No indeed. I intend to have footloose escapades as long as frontiers stay open.
Do you read a great deal?
Too much. And anything, including labels and recipes and advertisements. I have a passion for newspapers—read all the New York dailies every day, and the Sunday editions, and several foreign magazines too. The ones I don't buy I read standing at news stands. I average about five books a week—the normal-length novel takes me about two hours. I enjoy thrillers and would like someday to write one. Though I prefer first-rate fiction, for the last few years my reading seems to have been concentrated on letters and journals and biographies. It doesn't bother me to read while I am writing—I mean, I don't suddenly find another writer's style seeping out of my pen. Though once, during a lengthy spell of James, my own sentences did get awfully long.
What writers have influenced you the most?
So far as I consciously know, I've never been aware of direct literary influence, though several critics have informed me that my early works owe a debt to Faulkner and Welty and McCullers. Possibly. I'm a great admirer of all three; and Katherine Anne Porter, too. Though I don't think, when really examined, that they have much in common with each other, or me, except that we were all born in the South. Between thirteen and sixteen are the ideal if not the only ages for succumbing to Thomas Wolfe—he seemed to me a great genius then, and still does, though I can't read a line of it now. Just as other youthful flames have guttered: Poe, Dickens, Stevenson. I love them in memory, but find them unreadable. These are the enthusiasms that remain constant: Flaubert, Turgenev, Chekhov, Jane Austen, James, E. M. Forster, Maupassant, Rilke, Proust, Shaw, Willa Cather—oh the list is too long, so I'll end with James Agee, a beautiful writer whose death over two years ago was a real loss. Agee's work, by the way, was much influenced by the films. I think most of the younger writers have learned and borrowed from the visual, structural side of movie technique. I have.
You've written for the films, haven't you? What was that like?
A lark. At least the one picture I wrote, Beat the Devil, was tremendous fun. I worked on it with John Huston while the picture was actually being made on location in Italy. Sometimes scenes that were just about to be shot were written right on the set. The cast were completely bewildered—sometimes even Huston didn't seem to know what was going on. Naturally the scenes had to be written out of a sequence, and there were peculiar moments when I was carrying around in my head the only real outline of the so-called plot. You never saw it? Oh, you should. It's a marvelous joke. Though I'm afraid the producer didn't laugh. The hell with them. Whenever there's a revival I go to see it and have a fine time.
Seriously, though, I don't think a writer stands much chance of imposing himself on a film unless he works in the warmest rapport with the director or is himself the director. It's so much a director's medium that the movies have developed only one writer who, working exclusively as a scenarist, could be called a film genius. I mean that shy, delightful little peasant, Zavattini. What a visual sense! Eighty per cent of the good Italian movies were made from Zavattini scripts—all of the De Sica pictures, for instance. De Sica is a charming man, a gifted and deeply sophisticated person; nevertheless he's mostly a megaphone for Zavattini, his pictures are absolutely Zavattini's creations: every nuance, mood, every bit of business is clearly indicated in Zavattini's scripts.
What are some of your writing habits? Do you use a desk? Do you write on a machine?
I am a completely horizontal author. I can't think unless I'm lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I've got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis. No, I don't use a typewriter. Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also in longhand. Essentially I think of myself as a stylist, and stylists can become notoriously obsessed with the placing of a comma, the weight of a semicolon. Obsessions of this sort, and the time I take over them, irritate me beyond endurance.
You seem to make a distinction between writers who are stylists and writers who aren't. Which writers would you call stylists and which not?
What is style? And “what” as the Zen Koan asks, “is the sound of one hand?” No one really knows; yet either you know or you don't. For myself, if you will excuse a rather cheap little image, I suppose style is the mirror of an artist's sensibility—more so than the contentof his work. To some degree all writers have style—Ronald Firbank, bless his heart, had little else, and thank God he realized it. But the possession of style, a style, is often a hindrance, a negative force, not as it should be, and as it is—with, say, E. M. Forster and Colette and Flaubert and Mark Twain and Hemingway and Isak Dinesen—a reinforcement. Dreiser, for instance, has a style—but oh, Dio buono! And Eugene O'Neill. And Faulkner, brilliant as he is. They all seem to me triumphs over strong but negative styles, styles that do not really add to the communication between writer and reader. Then there is the styleless stylist—which is very difficult, very admirable, and always very popular: Graham Greene, Maugham, Thornton Wilder, John Hersey, Willa Cather, Thurber, Sartre (remember, we'renot discussing content), J. P. Marquand, and so on. But yes, there is such an animal as a nonstylist. Only they're not writers; they're typists. Sweaty typists blacking up pounds of bond paper with formless, eyeless, earless messages. Well, who are some of the younger writers who seem to know that style exists? P. H. Newby, Françoise Sagan, somewhat. Bill Styron, Flannery O'Connor—she has some fine moments, that girl. James Merrill. William Goyen—if he'd stop being hysterical. J. D. Salinger—especially in the colloquial tradition. Colin Wilson? Another typist.
You say that Ronald Firbank had little else but style. Do you think that style alone can make a writer a great one?
No, I don't think so—though, it could be argued, what happens to Proust if you separate him from his style? Style has never been a strong point with American writers. This though some of the best have been Americans. Hawthorne got us off to a fine start. For the past thirty years Hemingway, stylistically speaking, has influenced more writers on a world scale than anyone else. At the moment, I think our own Miss Porter knows as well as anyone what it's all about.
Can a writer learn style?
No, I don't think that style is consciously arrived at, any more than one arrives at the color of one's eyes. After all, your style is you. At the end the personality of a writer has so much to do with the work. The personality has to be humanly there. Personality is a debased word, I know, but it's what I mean. The writer's individual humanity, his word or gesture toward the world, has to appear almost like a character that makes contact with the reader. If the personality is vague or confused or merely literary, ça ne va pas. Faulkner, McCullers—they project their personality at once.
It is interesting that your work has been so widely appreciated in France. Do you think style can be translated?
Why not? Provided the author and the translator are artistic twins.
Well, I'm afraid I interrupted you with your short story still in penciled manuscript. What happens next?
Let's see, that was second draft. Then I type a third draft on yellow paper, a very special certain kind of yellow paper. No, I don't get out of bed to do this. I balance the machine on my knees. Sure, it works fine; I can manage a hundred words a minute. Well, when the yellow draft is finished, I put the manuscript away for a while, a week, a month, sometimes longer. When I take it out again, I read it as coldly as possible, then read it aloud to a friend or two, and decide what changes I want to make and whether or not I want to publish it. I've thrown away rather a few short stories, an entire novel, and half of another. But if all goes well, I type the final version on white paper and that's that.
Is the book organized completely in your head before you begin it or does it unfold, surprising you as you go along?
Both. I invariably have the illusion that the whole play of a story, its start and middle and finish, occur in my mind simultaneously—that I'm seeing it in one flash. But in the working-out, the writing-out, infinite surprises happen. Thank God, because the surprise, the twist, the phrase that comes at the right moment out of nowhere, is the unexpected dividend, that joyful little push that keeps a writer going.
At one time I used to keep notebooks with outlines for stories. But I found doing this somehow deadened the idea in my imagination. If the notion is good enough, if it truly belongs to you, then you can't forget it—it will haunt you till it's written.
How much of your work is autobiographical?
Very little, really. A little is suggested by real incidents or personages, although everything a writer writes is in some way autobiographical. The Grass Harp is the only true thing I ever wrote, and naturally everybody thought it all invented, and imagined Other Voices, Other Rooms to be autobiographical.
Do you have any definite ideas or projects for the future?
(meditatively) Well, yes, I believe so. I have always written what was easiest for me until now: I want to try something else, a kind of controlled extravagance. I want to use my mind more, use many more colors. Hemingway once said anybody can write a novel in the first person. I know now exactly what he means.
Were you ever tempted by any of the other arts?
I don't know if it's art, but I was stage-struck for years and more than anything I wanted to be a tap-dancer. I used to practice my buck-and-wing until everybody in the house was ready to kill me. Later on, I longed to play the guitar and sing in night clubs. So I saved up for a guitar and took lessons for one whole winter, but in the end the only tune I could really play was a beginner's thing called “I Wish I Were Single Again.” I got so tired of it that one day I just gave the guitar to a stranger in a bus station. I was also interested in painting, and studied for three years, but I'm afraid the fervor, la vrai chose, wasn't there.
Do you think criticism helps any?
Before publication, and if provided by persons whose judgment you trust, yes, of course criticism helps. But after something is published, all I want to read or hear is praise. Anything less is a bore, and I'll give you fifty dollars if you produced a writer who can honestly say he was ever helped by the prissy carpings and condescensions of reviewers. I don't mean to say that none of the professional critics are worth paying attention to—but few of the good ones review on a regular basis. Most of all, I believe in hardening yourself against opinion. I've had, and continue to receive, my full share of abuse, some of it extremely personal, but it doesn't faze me any more. I can read the most outrageous libel about myself and never skip a pulse-beat. And in this connection there is one piece of advice I strongly urge: never demean yourself by talking back to a critic, never. Write those letters to the editor in your head, but don't put them on paper.
What are some of your personal quirks?
I suppose my superstitiousness could be termed a quirk. I have to add up all numbers: there are some people I never telephone because their number adds up to an unlucky figure. Or I won't accept a hotel room for the same reason. I will not tolerate the presence of yellow roses—which is sad because they're my favorite flower. I can't allow three cigarette butts in the same ashtray. Won't travel on a plane with two nuns. Won't begin or end anything on a Friday. It's endless, the things I can't and won't. But I derive some curious comfort from obeying these primitive concepts.
You have been quoted as saying your preferred pastimes are “conversation, reading, travel, and writing, in that order.” Do you mean that literally?
I think so. At least I'm pretty sure conversation will always come first with me. I like to listen, and I like to talk. Heavens, girl, can't you see I like to talk?

Author photograph by Nancy Crampton

Hill, Pati. Paris Review. June 16th 2011 <>.

Truman Capote: About the author

Throughout his career, Truman Capote remained one of America’s most controversial and colorful authors, combining literary genius with a penchant for the glittering world of high society. Though he wrote only a handful of books, his prose styling was impeccable, and his insight into the psychology of human desire was extraordinary. His flamboyant and well-documented lifestyle has often overshadowed his gifts as a writer, but over time Capote’s work will outlive the celebrity.
Born in New Orleans in 1924, Capote was abandoned by his mother and raised by his elderly aunts and cousins in Monroeville, Alabama. As a child he lived a solitary and lonely existence, turning to writing for solace. Of his early days Capote related, “I began writing really sort of seriously when I was about eleven. I say seriously in the sense that like other kids go home and practice the violin or the piano or whatever, I used to go home from school every day and I would write for about three hours. I was obsessed by it.”
In his mid-teens, Capote was sent to New York to live with his mother and her new husband. Disoriented by life in the city, he dropped out of school, and at age seventeen, got a job with The New Yorker magazine. Within a few years he was writing regularly for an assortment of publications. One of his stories, “Miriam,” attracted the attention of publisher Bennett Cerf, who signed the young writer to a contract with Random House. Capote’s first book, Other Voices, Other Rooms, was published in 1948. Other Voices, Other Rooms received instant notoriety for its fine prose, its frank discussion of homosexual themes, and, perhaps most of all, for its erotically suggestive cover photograph of Capote himself.
With literary success came social celebrity. The young writer was lionized by the high society elite, and was seen at the best parties, clubs, and restaurants. He answered accusations of frivolousness by claiming he was researching a future book. His short novel, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958), took much of its inspiration from these experiences. With the publication of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the subsequent hit film staring Audrey Hepburn, Capote’s popularity and place among the upper crust was assured. His ambition, however, was to be great as well as popular, and so he began work on a new experimental project that he imagined would revolutionize the field of journalism.
In 1959, Capote set about creating a new literary genre — the non-fiction novel. In Cold Blood (1966), the book that most consider his masterpiece, is the story of the 1959 murder of the four members of a Kansas farming family, the Clutters. Capote left his jet-set friends and went to Kansas to delve into the small-town life and record the process by which they coped with this loss. During his stay, the two murderers were caught, and Capote began an involved interview with both. For six years, he became enmeshed in the lives of both the killers and the townspeople, taking thousands of pages of notes. Of In Cold Blood, Capote said, “This book was an important event for me. While writing it, I realized I just might have found a solution to what had always been my greatest creative quandary. I wanted to produce a journalistic novel, something on a large scale that would have the credibility of fact, the immediacy of film, the depth and freedom of prose, and the precision of poetry.” In Cold Blood sold out instantly, and became one of the most talked about books of its time. An instant classic, In Cold Blood brought its author millions of dollars and a fame unparalleled by nearly any other literary author since.
To celebrate the book’s success, Capote threw what many called the “Party of the Century,” the famous “Black and White Ball.” This masked ball, at New York’s elegant Plaza Hotel, was to be the pinnacle of both his literary endeavors and his popularity. Overwhelmed by the lifestyles of the rich and famous, Capote began to work on a project exploring the intimate details of his friends. He received a large advance for a book which was to be called Answered Prayers (after Saint Theresa of Avila’s saying that answered prayers cause more tears than those that remain unanswered). The book was to be a biting and largely factual account of the glittering world in which he moved. The publication of the first few chapters in Esquire magazine in 1975 caused a major scandal. Columnist Liz Smith explained, “He wrote what he knew, which is what people always tell writers to do, but he just didn’t wait till they were dead to do it.”
With these first short publications Capote found that many of his close friends and acquaintances shut him off completely. Though he claimed to be working on Answered Prayers (which many imagined would be his greatest work), the shock of the initial negative reactions sent him into a spiral of drug and alcohol use, during which time he wrote very little of any quality. When Capote died in 1984, at the age of fifty-nine, he left behind no evidence of any continued progress on Answered Prayers. Though many feel that Capote did not live up to the promise of his early work, it is clear from what he did write that he was an artist of exquisite talent and vision. With both his fiction and his non-fiction, he created a body of work that will continue to move readers and inspire writers for years.

PBS. July 28th 2006. June 16th 2011. <>.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Miriam by Truman Capote

Truman Capote
For several years, Mrs. H. T. Miller had lived alone in a pleasant apartment (two rooms with kitchenette) in a remodeled brownstone near the East River. She was a widow: Mr. H. T. Miller had left a reasonable amount of insurance. Her interests were narrow, she had no friends to speak of, and she rarely journeyed farther than the corner grocery. The other people in the house never seemed to notice her: her clothes were matter-of-fact, her hair iron-gray, clipped and casually waved; she did not use cosmetics, her features were plain and inconspicuous, and on her last birthday she was sixty-one. Her activities were seldom spontaneous: she kept the two rooms immaculate, smoked an occasional cigarette, prepared her own meals, and tended a canary.
Then she met Miriam. It was snowing that night. Mrs. Miller had finished drying the supper dishes and was thumbing through an afternoon paper when she saw an advertisement of a picture playing at a neighborhood theater. The title sounded good, so she struggled into her beaver coat, laced her galoshes, and left the apartment, leaving one light burning in the foyer: she found nothing more disturbing than a sensation of darkness.
The snow was fine, falling gently, not yet making an impression on the pavement. The wind from the river cut only at street crossings. Mrs. Miller hurried, her head bowed, oblivious as a mole burrowing a blind path. She stopped at a drugstore and bought a package of peppermints.
A long line stretched in front of the box office; she took her place at the end. There would be (a tired voice groaned) a short wait for all seats. Mrs. Miller rummaged in her leather handbag till she collected exactly the correct change for admission. The line seemed to be taking its own time and, looking around for some distraction, she suddenly became conscious of a little girl standing under the edge of the marquee.
Her hair was the longest and strangest Mrs. Miller had ever seen: absolutely silver-white, like an albino’s. It flowed waist-length in smooth, loose lines. She was thin and fragilely constructed. There was a simple, special elegance in the way she stood with her thumbs in the pockets of a tailored plum-velvet coat.
Mrs. Miller felt oddly excited, and when the little girl glanced toward her, she smiled warmly. The little girl walked over and said, "Would you care to do me a favor?"
"I’d be glad to, if I can," said Mrs. Miller.
"Oh, it’s quite easy. I merely want you to buy a ticket for me; they won’t let me in otherwise. Here, I have the money. And gracefully she handed Mrs. Miller two dimes and a nickel.
They went over to the theater together. An usherette directed them to a lounge; in twenty minutes the picture would be over.
"I feel just like a genuine criminal," said Mrs. Miller gaily, as she sat down. "I mean that sort of thing’s against the law, isn’t it? I do hope I haven’t done the wrong thing. Your mother knows where you are, dear? I mean she does, doesn’t she?"
The little girl said nothing. She unbuttoned her coat and folded it across her lap. Her dress underneath was prim and dark blue. A gold chain dangled about her neck, and her fingers, sensitive and musical-looking, toyed with it. Examining her more attentively, Mrs. Miller decided the truly distinctive feature was not her hair, but her eyes; they were hazel, ateady, lacking any childlike quality whatsoever and, because of their site, seemed to consume her small face.
Mrs. Miller offered a peppermint. "What’s your name, dear?"
"Miriam," she said, as though, in some curious way, it were information already familiar.
"Why, isn’t that funny—my name’s Miriam, too. And it’s not a terribly common name either. Now, don’t tell me your last name’s Miller!"
"Just Miriam."
"But isn’t that funny?’
"Moderately," said Miriam, and rolled the peppermint on her tongue.
Mrs. Miller flushed and shifted uncomfortably. "You have such a large vocabulary for such a little girl."
"Do l?’
"Well, yes," said Mrs. Miller, hastily changing the topic to:
"Do you like the movies?"
"I really wouldn’t know," said Miriam. "I’ve never been before."
Women began filling the lounge; the rumble of the newsreel bombs exploded in the distance. Mrs. Miller rose, tucking her purse under her arm. "I guess I’d better be running now if I want to get a seat," she said. "It was nice to have met " Miriam nodded ever so slightly.
It snowed all week. Wheels and footsteps moved soundlessly on the street, as if the business of living continued secretly behind a pale but impenetrable curtain. In the falling quiet there was no sky or earth, only snow lifting in the wind, frosting the window glass, chilling the rooms, deadening and hushing the city. At all hours it was necessary to keep a lamp lighted, and Mrs. Miller lost track of the days: Friday was no different from Saturday, and on Sunday she went to the grocery: closed, of course.
That evening she scrambled eggs and fixed a bowl of tomato soup. Then, after putting on a flannel robe and cold creaming her face, she propped herself up in bed with a hot water bottle under her feet. She was reading the Times when the doorbell rang. At first she thought it must be a mistake and whoever it was would go away. But it rang and rang and settled to a persistent buzz. She looked at the clock: a little after eleven; it did not seem possible, she was always asleep by ten.
Climbing out of bed, she trotted barefoot across the living room. "I’m coming, please be patient." The latch was caught; she turned it this way and that way and the bell never pawed an instant. ‘Stop it," she cried. The bolt gave way and she opened the door an inch. "What in heaven’s name?"
"Hello," said Miriam.
"Oh ... why, hello," said Mrs. Miller, stepping hesitantly into the hall. "You’re that little girl."
"1 thought you’d never answer, but I kept my finger on the button; I knew you were home. Aren’t you glad to see me?"
Mrs. Miller did not know what to say. Miriam, she saw, wore the same plum-velvet coat and now she had also a beret to match; her white hair was braided in two shining plaits and looped at the ends with enormous white ribbons.
"Since I’ve waited so long, you could at least let me in," she said.
"It’s awfully late
Miriam regarded her blankly. "What difference does that make? Let me in. It’s cold out here and I have on a silk dress." Then, with a gentle gesture, she urged Mrs. Miller aside and passed into the apartment.
She dropped her coat and beret on a chair. She was indeed wearing a silk dress. White silk. White silk in February. The skirt was beautifully pleated and the sleeves long; it made a faint rustle as she strolled about the room. "I like your place," she said. "I like the rug, blue’s my favorite color." She touched a paper rose in a vase on the coffee table. "Imitation," she commented wanly. "How sad. Aren’t imitations sad?" She seated herself on the sofa, daintily spreading her skirt.
"What do you want?" asked Mrs. Miller.
"Sit down," said Miriam. "It makes me nervous to see people stand."
Mrs. Miller sank to a hassock. "What do you want?" she repeated.
"You know, I don’t think you’re glad I came."
For a second time Mrs. Miller was without an answer; her hand motioned vaguely. Miriam giggled and pressed back on a mound of chintz pillows. Mrs. Miller observed that the girl was less pale than she remembered; her cheeks were flushed.
"How did you know where I lived?"
Miriam frowned. "That’s no question at all. What’s your name? What’s mine?"
"But I'm not listed in the phone book."
"Oh, let’s talk about something else."
Mrs. Miller said, "Your mother must be insane to let a child like you wander around at all hours of the night—and in such ridiculous clothes. She must be out of her mind."
Miriam got up and moved to a corner where a covered bird cage hung from a ceiling chain. She peeked beneath the cover,
"It’s a canary," she said. "Would you mind if I woke him? I’d like to hear him sing."
Leave Tommy alone," said Mrs. Miller, anxiously. "Don’t you dare wake him."
"Certainly," said Miriam. "But I don’t see why I can’t hear him sing." And then, "Have you anything to eat? I’m starving! Even milk and a jam sandwich would be fine."
"Look," said Mrs. Miller, arising from the hassock, "look - if I make some nice sandwiches will you be a good child and run along home? It’s past midnight, I’m sure."
"It’s snowing," reproached Miriam. "And cold and dark."
"Well, you shouldn’t have come here to begin with," said Mrs. Miller, struggling to control her voice. "I can’t help the weather, If you want anything to eat you’ll have to promise to leave."
Miriam brushed a braid against her cheek. Her eyes were thoughtful, as if weighing the proposition. She turned toward the bird cage. "Very well," she said, "I promise."
How old is she? Ten? Eleven? Mrs. Miller, in the kitchen, unsealed a jar of strawberry preserves and cut four slices of bread. She poured a glass of milk and paused to light a cigarette. And why has she come? Her hand shook as she held the match, fascinated, till it burned her finger. The canary was singing; singing as he did in the morning and at no other time. "Miriam," she called, ‘Miriam, I told you not to disturb Tommy." There was no answer. She called again; all she heard was the canary. She inhaled the cigarette and discovered she had lighted the cork-tip end and -oh, really, she musn’t lose her temper.
She carried the food in on a tray and set it on the coffee table. She saw first that the bird cage still wore its night cover. And Tommy was singing. It gave her a queer sensation. And no one was in the room. Mrs. Miller went through an alcove leading to her bedroom; at the door she caught her breath.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
Miriam glanced up, and in her eyes there was a look that was not ordinary. She was standing by the bureau, a jewel case opened before her. For a minute she studied Mrs. Miller, forcing their eyes to meet, and she smiled. "There’s nothing good here," she said. "But I like this." Her hand held a cameo brooch. "It’s charming."
"Suppose—perhaps you’d better put it back," said Mrs. Miller, feeling suddenly the need of some support. She leaned against the door frame; her head was unbearably heavy; a pressure weighted the rhythm of her heartbeat. The light seemed to flutter defectively. "Please, child—a gift from my husband …."
"But it’s beautiful and I want it," said Miriam. "Give it to me."
As she stood, striving to shape a sentence which would somehow save the brooch, it came to Mrs. Miller there was no one to whom she might turn; she was alone; a fact that had not been among her thoughts for a long time. Its sheer emphasis was stunning. But here in her own room in the hushed snow city were evidences she could not ignore or, she knew with startling clarity, resist.
Miriam ate ravenously, and when the sandwiches and milk were gone, her fingers made cobweb movements over the plate, gathering crumbs. The cameo gleamed on her blouse, the blond profile like a trick reflection of its wearer. "That was very nice," she sighed, "though now an almond cake or a cherry would be ideal. Sweets are lovely, don’t you think?"
Mrs. Miller was perched precariously on the hassock, smoking a cigarette. Her hair net had slipped lopsided, and loose strands straggled down her face. Her eyes were stupidly concentrated on nothing and her cheeks were mottled in red patches, as though a fierce slap had left permanent marks.
"Is there a candy - a cake?"
Mrs. Miller tapped ash on the rug. Her head swayed slightly as she tried to focus her eyes. "You promised to leave if I made the sandwiches," she said.
‘Dear me, did I?"
"It was a promise and I’m tired and I don’t feel well at all."
"Musn’t fret," said Miriam. "I’m only teasing."
She picked up her coat, slung it over her arm, and arranged her beret in front of a mirror. Presently she bent close to Mrs. Miller and whispered, "Kiss me good night."
"Please - I’d rather not," said Mrs. Miller.
Miriam lifted a shoulder, arched an eyebrow. "As you like," she said, and went directly to the coffee table, seized the vase containing the paper roses, carried it to where the hard surface of the floor lay bare, and hurled it downward. Glass sprayed in all directions, and she stamped her foot on the bouquet.
Then slowly she walked to the door, but before closing it she looked back at Mrs. Miller with a slyly innocent curiosity.
Mrs. Miller spent the next day in bed, rising once to feed the canary and drink a cup of tea; she took her temperature and had none, yet her dreams were feverishly agitated; their unbalanced mood lingered even as she lay staring wide-eyed at the ceiling. One dream threaded through the others like an elusively mysterious theme in a complicated symphony, and the scenes it depicted were sharply outlined, as though sketched by a hand of gifted intensity: a small girl, wearing a bridal gown and a wreath of leaves, led a gray procession down a mountain path, and among them there was unusual silence till a woman at the rear asked, "Where is she taking us?" "No one knows," said an old man marching in front. ‘But isn’t she pretty?" volunteered a third voice. "Isn’t she like a frost flower ... so shining and white?"
Tuesday morning she woke up feeling better; harsh slats of sunlight, slanting through Venetian blinds, shed a disrupting light on her unwholesome fancies. She opened the window to discover a thawed, mild-as-spring day; a sweep of clean new clouds crumpled against a vastly blue, out-of-season sky; and across the low line of rooftops she could see the river and smoke curving from tugboat stacks in a warm wind. A great silver truck plowed the snowbanked street, its machine sound humming on the air.
After straightening the apartment, she went to the grocer’s, cashed a check, and continued to Schrafft’s, where she ate breakfast and chatted happily with the waitress. Oh, it was a wonderful day—more like a holiday—and it would be so foolish to go home.
She boarded a Lexington Avenue bus and rode up to Eighty-sixth Street; it was here that she had decided to do a little shopping.
She had no idea what she wanted or needed, but she idled along, intent only upon the passersby, brisk and preoccupied, who gave her a disturbing sense of separateness.
It was while waiting at the corner of Third Avenue that she saw the man: an old man, bowlegged and stooped under an armload of bulging packages; he wore a shabby brown coat and a checkered cap. Suddenly she realized they were exchanging a smile: there was nothing friendly about this smile, it was merely two cold flickers of recognition. But she was certain she had never seen him before.
He was standing next to an El pillar, and as she crossed the street he turned and followed. He kept quite close; from the corner of her eye she watched his reflection wavering on the shop windows.
Then in the middle of the block she stopped and faced him. He stopped also and coded his head, grinning. But what could she say? Do? Here, in broad daylight, on Eighty-sixth Street? It was useless and, despising her own helplessness, she quickened her steps.
Now Second Avenue is a dismal street, made from scraps and ends; part cobblestone, part asphalt, part cement; and its atmosphere of desertion is permanent. Mrs. Miller walked five blocks without meeting anyone, and all the while the steady crunch of his footfalls in the snow stayed near. And when she came to a florist’s shop, the sound was still with her. She hurried inside and watched through the glass door as the old man passed; he kept his eyes straight ahead and didn’t slow his pace, but he did one strange, telling thing: he tipped his cap.
Six white ones, did you say?" asked the florist. "Yes," she told him, "white roses." From there she went to a glassware store and selected a vase, presumably a replacement for the one Miriam had broken, though the price was intolerable and the vase itself (she thought) grotesquely vulgar. But a series of unaccountable purchases had begun, as if by prearranged plan: a plan of which she had not the least knowledge or control.
She bought a bag of glazed cherries, and at a place called the Knickerbocker Bakery she paid forty cents for six almond cakes.
Within the last hour the weather had turned cold again; like blurred lenses, winter clouds cut a shade over the sun, and the skeleton of an early dusk colored the sky; a damp mist mixed with the wind, and the voices of a few children who romped high on mountains of gutter snow seemed lonely and cheerless. Soon the first flake fell, and when Mrs. Miller reached the brownstone house, snow was falling in a swift screen, and foot tracks vanished as they were printed.
 The white roses were arranged decoratively in the vase. The glazed cherries shone on a ceramic plate. The almond cakes, dusted with sugar, awaited a hand. The canary fluttered on its swing and picked at a bar of seed.
At precisely five the doorbell rang. Mrs. Miller knew who it was. The hem of her housecoat trailed as she crossed the floor. "Is that you?" she called.
"Naturally," said Miriam, the word resounding shrilly from the hall. "Open this door."
"Go away," said Mrs. Miller.
"Please hurry ... I have a heavy package."
"Go away;’ said Mrs. Miller. She returned to the living room, lighted a cigarette, sat down, and calmly listened to the buzzer; on and on and on. "You might as well leave. I have no intention of letting you in."
Shortly the bell stopped. For possibly ten minutes Mrs. Miller did not move. Then, hearing no sound, she concluded Miriam had gone. She tiptoed to the door end opened it a sliver; Miriam was half-reclining atop a cardboard box with a beautiful French doll cradled in her arms.
"Really, I thought you were never coming,’ she said peevishly. "Here, help me get this in, it’s awfully heavy."
It was not spell-like compulsion that Mrs. Miller felt, but rather, curious passivity; she brought in the box, Miriam the doll. Miriam curled upon the sofa, not troubling to remove her coat or beret, and watched disinterestedly as Mrs. Miller dropped the box and stood trembling, trying to catch her breath.
"Thank you," she said. In the daylight she looked pinched and drawn, her hair less luminous. The French doll she was loving wore an exquisite powdered wig, and its idiot glass eyes sought solace in Miriam’s. "I have a surprise," she continued. "Look into my box."
Kneeling, Mrs. Miller parted the flaps and lifted out another doll; then a blue dress which she recalled as the one Miriam had worn that first night at the theater; and of the remainder she said, "It’s all clothes. Why?"
"Because I’ve come to live with you," said Miriam, twisting a cherry stem. "Wasn’t it nice of you to buy me the cherries . .
"But you can't! For God’s sake go away—go away and leave me alone!"
".... . and the roses and the almond cakes? How really wonderfully generous. You know, these cherries are delicious. The last place I lived was with an old man; he was terribly poor and we never had good things to eat. But I think I’ll be happy here." She paused to snuggle her doll closer. "Now, if you’ll just show me where to put my things....
Mrs. Miller’s face dissolved into a mask of ugly red lines; she began to cry, and it was an unnatural, tearless sort of weeping, as though, not having wept for a long time, she had forgotten how. Carefully she edged backward till she touched the door.
She fumbled through the hall and down the stairs to a landing below. She pounded frantically on the door of the first apartment she came to; a short, redheaded man answered and she pushed past him. "Say, what the hell is this?" he said. "Anything wrong, lover?" asked a young woman who appeared from the kitchen, drying her hands. And it was to her that Mrs. Miller turned.
"Listen," she cried, "I’m ashamed behaving this way but— well, I’m Mrs. H. T. Miller and I live upstairs and . . ." She pressed her hands over her face. "It sounds so absurd…."
The woman guided her to a chair, while the man excitedly rattled pocket change. "Yeah?"
"I live upstairs and there’s a little girl visiting me, and I suppose that I’m afraid of her. She won't leave and I can’t make her and—she’s going to do something terrible. She’s already stolen my cameo, but she’s about to do something worse—something terrible!"
The man asked, "Is she a relative, huh?"
Mrs. Miller shook her head. "I don’t know who she is. Her name’s Miriam, but I don’t know for certain who she is."
"You gout calm down, honey," said the woman, stroking Mrs. Miller’s arm. "Harry here’ll tend to this kid. Go on, lover." And Mrs. Miller said, "The door’s open—5A"
After the man left, the woman brought a towel and bathed Mrs. Miller’s face. "You’re very kind," Mrs. Miller said. "I’m sorry to act like such a fool, only this wicked child …."
"Sure honey," consoled the woman. "Now, you better take it easy."
Mrs. Miller rested her head in the crook of her arm; she was quiet enough to be asleep. The woman turned a radio dial; a piano and a husky voice filled the silence and the woman, tapping her foot, kept excellent time. "Maybe we oughta go up too," she said.
"I don’t want to see her again. I don’t want to be anywhere near her."
"Uh huh, but what you shoulda done, you shoulda called a cop."
Presently they heard the man on the stairs. He strode into the room frowning and scratching the back of his neck. "Nobody there," he said, honestly embarrassed. "She musta beat it.’
"Harry, you’re a jerk," announced the woman. "We been sitting here the whole time and we woulda seen .. ." She stopped abruptly, for the man’s glance was sharp.
"I looked all over," he said, "and there just ain’t nobody there. Nobody, understand?"
"Tell me," said Mrs. Miller, rising, "tell me, did you see a large box? Or a doll?"
"No, ma’am, I didn’t."
And the woman, as if delivering a verdict, said, "Well, for cryinoutloud ...."
Mrs. Miller entered her apartment softly; she walked to the center of the room and stood quite still. No, in a sense it had not changed: the roses, the cakes, and the cherries were in place. But this was an empty room, emptier than if the furnishings and familiars were not present, lifeless and petrified as a funeral parlor. The sofa loomed before her with a new strangeness: its vacancy had a meaning that would have been less penetrating and terrible had Miriam been curled on it. She gazed fixedly at the space where she remembered setting the box and, for a moment, the hassock spun desperately. And she looked through the window; surely the river was real, surely snow was falling—but then, one could not be certain witness to anything: Miriam, so vividly there—and yet, where was she? Where, where?
As though moving in a dream, she sank to a chair. The room was losing shape; it was dark and getting darker and there was nothing to be done about it; she could not lift her hand to light a lamp.

Suddenly, closing her eyes, she felt an upward surge, like a diver emerging from some deeper, greener depth. In times of terror or immense distress, there are moments when the mind waits, as though for a revelation, while a skein of calm is woven over thought; it is like a sleep, or a supernatural trance; and during this lull one is aware of a force of quiet reasoning: well, what if she had never really known a girl named Miriam? that she had been foolishly frightened on the street? In the end, like everything else, it was of no importance. For the only thing she had lost to Miriam was her identity, but now she knew she had found again the person who lived in this room, who cooked her own meals, who owned a canary, who was someone she could trust and believe in: Mrs. H. T. Miller.
Listening in contentment, she became aware of a double sound: a bureau drawer opening and closing; she seemed to hear it long after completion—opening and closing. Then gradually, the harshness of it was replaced by the murmur of a silk dress and this, delicately faint, was moving nearer and swelling in intensity till the walls trembled with the vibration and the room was caving under a wave of whispers. Mrs. Miller stiffened and opened her eyes to a dull, direct stare.
"Hello," said Miriam.

Capote, Truman. s.f. June 14th 2011 <>.