About Katherine Anne Porter's Writing Style
American fiction writer Katherine Anne Porter is most known for her short story, "Flowering Judas" and her novel, "Ship of Fools," which was later adapted to a successful film. Porter lived from 1890 to 1980 and in two short years of her life (1966-1968) achieved the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, the Gold Medal for fiction of the National Institute of Arts and Letters and election to the American Academy of Letters. During her life and after, critics warmly praised Porter's talented writing.
Porter's stories include major symbols, even though she claims she doesn't use them consciously; they flow out of her naturally and appear in her writing. "Flowering Judas” climaxes with a nightmare in which the main character confronts her inability to trust others despite her socialist philosophy. Her eating of the tree Judas Iscariot supposedly hanged himself from symbolizes her betrayal of her political ideals.
The Political and the Personal
For Porter, the political and the personal are not only intricately connected, but pinpointing where one ends and the other begins is difficult. In her stories, personal actions often have political ramifications and vice-versa, as in "Flowering Judas," where the heroine's distrust of other people contradicts her socialist political ideals, and she acts as dispassionately with fellow revolutionaries as she does with pursuing suitors. This means Porter's writing is rich with layers of meaning, and to analyze her style is to consider the larger implications of what she is saying, even though her stories sometimes seem simple.
The Use of Memory
Characters are made up of memories in Porter's writing, and this is no more evident than in "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall." In this short story, the memories of an elderly lady on her deathbed become more and more confused as the story goes on, even as the reader gains a great understanding of her through her memories. Porter uses memories to establish characters. She employs this technique because she believes that's how people's identities develop in real life. According to Paris Review's interview with her in 1963, Porter stated: "We spend our lives making sense of the memories of our past."
Porter on Style
In the Paris Review, Porter explained her own views on writing style. She told the journalist, "I don't believe in style. The style is you." Rather than cultivating or practicing a style, Porter believed style just flows naturally and any attempt to cultivate one would just come across as artificial because, "Your style is an emanation from your own being." In her advocacy for authenticity, Porter also discouraged her students from using popular jargon and instead promoted using "basic pure human speech that exists in every language." She firmly holds to the idea that even simple language can offer meaning for highly intelligent readers.
- The Norton Anthology of American Literature; Katherine Anne Porter; ed. Nina Baym
- CCSNET.org: Symbolism - The Main Artistic Style of Katherine Anne Porter's Short Stories
- Nelson Education: Katherine Anne Porter
- The Paris Review: Katherine Anne Porter, The Art of Fiction No. 29
Nadine Smith has been writing since 2010. She teaches college writing and ESL courses and has several years experience tutoring all ages in English, ESL and literature. Nadine holds a Master of Arts in English language and literature from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, where she led seminars as a teaching assistant.