“Miriam” by Truman Capote (1945)
Let’s start from the beginning. The first paragraph introduces the character of Mrs. H.T. Miller, and establishes her lonely, mundane life. She seems not to have any particular purpose or direction apart from her routine, and has become a shell. Her routine is all that is left of her. When she decides to go see the movie, she is breaking apart from the routine in a spontaneous act, which sparks the horrifying turn her life takes.
There are many references to snow throughout the story, and I have several theories on what it means. It represents her mental state, falling thicker and thicker as tension and conflict build. It is also similar to Miriam, as they both symbolize loneliness and isolation. Miriam even looks like snow, leading me to believe that they are connected. The story is all about escalation: the snow is building, the tension is building, Miriam’s torturous behavior is building, causing Mrs. Miller’s woes to build.
Miriam can be interpreted in many different ways, and each way changes the meaning of everything in the story. She could be the ghost of Miller’s childhood? A part of Miller that she doesn’t want to see? Is she real at all? Is she a figment of Miller’s imagination as she becomes more senile? Is she a combination of these elements? What we know for sure is that she is a personification of her loneliness. Also, it’s a tiny detail, but her plum coat symbolizes wealth, so it is inferred that everything she asks Mrs. Miller for is not out of need.
Miriam first meets Mrs. Miller by asking, and at the movie theater she seems to be testing her out, seeing if she will be the next good person to move on to. Her requests grow more and more, showing Miller’s growing isolation and declining sanity.
The old man carrying packages that Mrs. Miller sees is the man from her dream, and that is where she recognized him from. He also seems to be Miriam’s former host before Mrs. Miller, the old man that she refers to. Another theory is that he could be Miller’s dead husband. She could be imagining him completely, having perhaps forgotten what her husband looked like, or projecting her husband onto a stranger who is Miriam’s host. This idea is possible, but I do not think it is likely.
The end is a fascinating part of the story, and Miriam hiding in the drawer means that she could or could not be a real person even if the neighbors did not see her. Mrs. Miller is ironically forced to reach out to her neighbors for help, but they cannot find Miriam (in a metaphorical sense, see or understand her loneliness). It points to further tension and conflict, suggesting that Miriam, imaginary or not, will never leave Mrs. Miller until her death.
The author uses several elements in this piece, most noticeably: indirect characterization, symbolism, and mystery. He characterized Miriam and Mrs. Miller mostly by their actions and appearances, to let us know from the outside what was going on beneath the surface. For symbolism, the biggest example is that Miriam and the snow symbolized loneliness and isolation. Capote also incorporated what I am calling mystery, or leaving out overdone explanations or a resolution to let us interpret what is going on for ourselves. We can see Miriam and who she is in a number of ways, and I believe that was his intention, allowing us to figure out a lot of the story for ourselves as well as the meaning or message, which is different for everyone. This ties in to trusting in the intelligence of your reader. We can take these qualities: indirect characterization, symbolism, and mystery, and incorporate them into our own work to create a deeper piece with a more versatile meaning.