A presentation on Truman Capote’s “Miriam” by Angela Mercado, Elissa Parker, and Quentin Pham
Summary Part 1: Quentin
Mrs. Miller is a widow who lives alone in her rustic apartment. She lives a very dull life following the same routine and doesn’t really have any friends or family members. One snowy day, while she’s feeling herself, she decides to view a picture playing at a theater and she meets a strange girl named Miriam. Miriam from the start gives an offsetting vibe from both her physical appearance and her personality. Miriam asks Mrs. Miller to buy her a ticket and Mrs. Miller, being the kind woman, she is, buys her one. After having a rather odd conversation in the theater, Mrs. Miller decides to go home and go back to her stale life which continues for a few days until one day as she’s doing her night routine, her doorbell rings and at her front door is Miriam.
Summary Part 2: Elissa
Mrs Miller finds Miriam on her doorstep late at night but is hesitant to let her in, Miriam immediately starts acting as if she owns the house, asking if she can wake up Mrs. Miller’s canary, insisting Mrs. Miller make her something to eat, refusing to leave, breaking her vase, and even stealing Mrs. Miller’s gift from her late husband. The following day, Mrs. Miller stays in bed all day, dreaming eerie dreams about Miriam. Two days after Miriam’s visit, Mrs. Miller feels compelled to buy all the things Miriam commented about her household lacking and notices a strange old man following her.
Summary Part 3: Angela
While shopping around one day, Mrs. Miller impulsively buys some sweets and cakes that Miriam had been wanting. After arriving at home, Mrs. Miller arranges the flowers and serves the desserts at her table, when Miriam rings the bell, demanding to be let in. Mrs. Miller refuses to open the door, but Miriam tricks her into opening the door, forcing herself into the apartment, where Miriam reveals that she’s moving in with Mrs. Miller and has brought box full of clothes and dolls. Mrs. Miller, shocked and upset, runs down to her neighbors to ask them for help. They search her apartment for the girl, but there’s no sign that she was ever there, everything left like Miriam was never there. Mrs. Miller, questioning Miriam’s existence, closed her eyes to think, and began hearing a strange noise moving towards her. She opens her eyes to see Miriam, standing right in front of her.
Analysis Part 1: Quentin
This story teaches many things ranging from the style of writing to the way you can present ideas. Starting with the conflict, the author makes it clear that the conflict can be presented in a way that’s not just a character encountering something so unknown and plot twisting but rather something we already knew that just clicks. To put it in simpler words, most conflicts are a problem that the character must deal with, then when the climax hits, it’s extremely crazy and something we’re not expecting. However, in this story, we meet Miriam and from the start we know something is wrong with. The audience was probably even predicting that she was going to do something crazy that would make the story so remarkable and that she was the major problem. This isn’t the case. Miriam is rather just strange when appearing at Mrs. Miller’s door and continues to act stranger, but it’s not her increasing level of weirdness that makes the conflict, but actually Mrs. Miller realizing that she’s alone and she has nobody to turn to. This is presented from the start of the story when the author is describing Mrs. Miller’s lifestyle but it’s not till the climax when she realizes she actually had an internal problem she’s been hiding that she finally recognizes. Sure, some might argue that Miriam was the conflict, but Miriam just played a major factor that helped the character and the audience realize what the conflict really was. One line that really sticks out is
“she was alone; a fact that had not been among her thoughts for a long time”.
This is the realizing factor.
Another craft element of the story was its concrete details. These details used the five senses to describe the characters in a way that gave them life and let the audience know the intensity of the situations. It makes the story so great by first characterizing Miriam. Rather than just talking about the abstract details of her, the author uses lines like “silver-white, like an albino’s” to describe her hair and shed light on the beginning of her strangeness (since that type of hair color is rare and unique). It also works to describe the setting of the story by talking about Mrs. Miller’s dull apartment and the boring life she lives ultimately giving off the vibe and structure of the overall story. It also intensifies situations, using the line,
“and swelling in intensity till the walls trembled with the vibration and the room was caving under a wave of whispers”,
to describe Miriam’s appearance as opposed to just telling us she was standing in the room. That level of description appears very attractive and pulls the reader’s attention.
How do the sensory details help present the ideas in the story more clearly?
How does the conflict of the story build up to the climax?
Analysis Part 2: Elissa
The Way Mrs. Miller Sees Miriam
Throughout Truman Capote’s Miriam, the main character, Mrs. Miller gains a different view of Miriam every time she sees her. When she first sees Miriam, Mrs. Miller is captivated and intrigued.
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.
She welcomes Miriam into her quiet and lonely life, if only for a second. Miriam piques Mrs. Miller’s interest even more when she finds out they have the same first name and considres meeting Miriam somewhat pleasant.
However, when Miriam shows up on Mrs. Miller’s doorstep late at night, Mrs. Miller is more than annoyed at this girl inviting herself into her home. Notice how there is always attention to detail on what Miriam is wearing.
“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.”
“I 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 ribbon.
Miriam immediately starts disturbing Mrs. Miller’s typically calm household by insisting upon things that are not part of routine, and makes off with Mrs. Miller’s brooch, and for some reason, Mrs. Miller is unable to tell Miriam that she cannot take the brooch as she is overcome by how alone is. Mrs. Miller has become angry and annoyed with Miriam, but Miriam is her only companion.
When Miriam returns for the third time, Mrs. Miller refuses to let her in, only to let her in by accident. This time, there is no description of how Miriam looks, showing how Mrs. Miller is no longer awestruck or compassionate towards Miriam. Mrs. Miller completely breaks down when Miriam announces her moving in.
“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!”
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.
Mrs. Miller is now terrified of Miriam and no longer sees her as a companion, but more of a presence put there to haunt her.
The climax/conflict of the story is when Miriam visits Ms. Miller for the first time and keeps coming over afterwards. She continues to refuse to leave, practically driving Mrs. Miller insane.
- Why are Miriam’s clothes described visibly every time except for the last?
- Who is the real Miriam?
Analysis Part 3: Angela
The first craft element I chose to analyze was Capote’s use of characterization. Miriam’s character is a very unsettling and creepy girl, that is very good at putting on the appearance of a normal and innocent child. She always gets away with what she wants and seems to have a natural ability to manipulate people in her favor. Mrs. Miller is an older woman who lives alone, the perfect victim for Miriam. She lives a very plain and routine life and is very much a creature of habit. When she first met Miriam, she was very nice to her and only wanted to help her, and then when Miriam showed up at her apartment, she was being polite to her, despite being confused and upset. Mrs. Miller is a very non confrontational person, as shown in this paragraph:
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.
She felt scared and uncomfortable, and wanted to say something to the strange man to defend herself, but in the end decided not to, and was ashamed of herself for being so vulnerable and helpless. Miriam and Mrs. Miller have very different and opposing personalities, which to me, is a part of what makes the story’s plot even more rich. Miriam is a strange girl, not like someone her age, as we can see in this paragraph:
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.
Miriam knew that she could do whatever she wanted without Mrs. Miller getting angry at her or saying anything and seemed to be testing her limits in this scene. Whenever Mrs. Miller finally gets fed up and tries to stand up to Miriam, Miriam simply ignores her and laughs it all off.
‘”….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….”’
The characterization of Miriam and Mrs. Miller are an important part of the story that tie into the plot and conflict of this piece. I loved how Capote used dialogue, as well as physical descriptions and vivid language to develop and build up his characters in a very realistic and intriguing way.
The other craft element I analyzed was the dialogue used in the story. The author mainly used dialogue to show the relationship between Miriam and Mrs. Miller, and to show how it got progressively more manipulative and how Mrs. Miller’s meek personality was being abused of and taken advantage of by Miriam. Most of their relationship and interactions with each other are shown through dialogue, but Capote keeps it reserved for that, and doesn’t use it unnecessarily to tell the rest of the story, focusing more on using details for that. Since he only uses dialogue sparingly, it has a stronger effect and helps carry across the more off-putting nature of Miriam and Mrs. Miller’s interactions.
“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.”
“Well, yes,” said Mrs. Miller…
The author also relies on dialogue tags to enhance the effect of the dialogue, adding detail about where the character was looking or what facial expressions they may have made. The exchanges between the two characters weren’t like normal conversations between a little girl and an older woman, who at first seems to take almost a maternal approach to her interactions with Miriam. They are much more complex and advanced, especially coming from a child, and Mrs. Miller is surprised and almost intimidated by this, as we can see from this quote, because she seems to back down and let Miriam control her and take the lead:
“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 evidence she could not ignore or, she knew with startling clarity, resist.
Using dialogue and physical expressions of the characters, rather than internal thoughts, the author develops the characters, showing distinct personality traits and their characterization, mainly through the words that they speak. This all shows how powerful dialogue can be, and how, when used correctly, can push a story forward and explore the characters further for the reader.
– Is there any way of reading and interpreting this story in which Mrs. Miller could be seen as the ‘villain’?
– What other methods did the author use to characterize Miriam and Mrs. Miller apart from their dialogue?