Katherine Anne Porter’s characters in “Old Mortality” make contradicting statements throughout the story with their personalities as much as their words. Eva, the “Old Maid,” symbolizes aging, and the hardships and pain that can be associated with it. Amy can be thought of as her foil, because she seems to represent the antithesis of Eva in every way.
Frozen in time with her premature death, Amy remains for the older members of the family the strongest link to the values and ways of life they were so comfortable with during the Victorian Era. Eva, as she pushes votes for women, is representing, in addition to propelling, the movement to gain a woman’s right to vote-- something that even older women in the family look down upon: ‘“In our part of the country, in my time, we were so provincial—a woman didn’t dare to think or act for herself. The whole world was a little that way,” she said, but we were the worst, I believe. I suppose you must know how I fought for votes for women when it almost made a pariah out of me…”’ From the beginning, we are made to see that Amy is beautiful and loved, while Eva is simply ridiculed for what she cannot change, and not respected for her beliefs and lifestyle.
Eva is not favored because she is an unpleasant reminder of reality, and reality is something they seem to all be trying to forget. “Eva was a blot, no doubt about it, but the little girls felt she belonged to their everyday world of dull lessons to be learned, stiff shoes to be limbered up, scratchy flannels to be endured in cold weather, measles and disappointed expectations. Their Aunt Amy belonged to the world of poetry.” Thus, everyday living is dull and tedious but Amy, in addi...
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...an see the hazards that are associated with too much vanity and not enough reality: ‘“How is your father? I always liked him. He was one of the finest-looking young men I ever saw. Vain, too, like all his family.”’
Katherine Anne Porter’s use of irony in “Old Mortality” serves to weave an image through the reader’s mind—an image that reveals the danger of romanticizing the past. In hindsight things always appear better, such as Harry’s recollection that all his female relatives are thin “thank god,” when there are several extreme examples of when this was not the case. In life, nobody can be as perfect as someone else is in death, even though things might not have been so at the time. It is a great difficulty to live up to people from the past, especially people who conformed so well, and never got the chance to lose what is loved most about them—their beauty.
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