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 <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/archetype>.
Dictionary Reference. 2011. June 21th 2011 <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ordinary>.
Dictionary Reference. 2011. June 21th 2011 <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/routine>.
Dictionary Reference. 2011. June 21th 2011 <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/extraordinary>.
Capote, Truman. The complete stories of Truman Capote. New York: Vintage Internacional, 2005.