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Miriam (short story)

Miriam (short story)

Overview
"Miriam" is a short story written by Truman Capote
Truman Capote
Truman Streckfus Persons , known as Truman Capote , was an American author, many of whose short stories, novels, plays, and nonfiction are recognized literary classics, including the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's and the true crime novel In Cold Blood , which he labeled a "nonfiction novel." At...

. It was originally published in the June 1945 issue of Mademoiselle
Mademoiselle (magazine)
Mademoiselle was an influential women's magazine first published in 1935 by Street and Smith and later acquired by Condé Nast Publications....

.
"Miriam" is notable because it is one of Capote's first published short stories; in 1946 it earned an O. Henry Award
O. Henry Award
The O. Henry Award is the only yearly award given to short stories of exceptional merit. The award is named after the American master of the form, O. Henry....

 in the category Best First-Published Story.

Carson McCullers
Carson McCullers
Carson McCullers was an American writer. She wrote novels, short stories, and two plays, as well as essays and some poetry. Her first novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter explores the spiritual isolation of misfits and outcasts of the South...

' sister, Rita Smith, who worked as an editor's assistant at Madmoiselle recommended Capote's story "Miriam." She assisted George Davis, who gave Truman his first start in being published.

"Miriam" is about a 61-year-old widow named Mrs.
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Encyclopedia
"Miriam" is a short story written by Truman Capote
Truman Capote
Truman Streckfus Persons , known as Truman Capote , was an American author, many of whose short stories, novels, plays, and nonfiction are recognized literary classics, including the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's and the true crime novel In Cold Blood , which he labeled a "nonfiction novel." At...

. It was originally published in the June 1945 issue of Mademoiselle
Mademoiselle (magazine)
Mademoiselle was an influential women's magazine first published in 1935 by Street and Smith and later acquired by Condé Nast Publications....

.
"Miriam" is notable because it is one of Capote's first published short stories; in 1946 it earned an O. Henry Award
O. Henry Award
The O. Henry Award is the only yearly award given to short stories of exceptional merit. The award is named after the American master of the form, O. Henry....

 in the category Best First-Published Story.

Conception


Carson McCullers
Carson McCullers
Carson McCullers was an American writer. She wrote novels, short stories, and two plays, as well as essays and some poetry. Her first novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter explores the spiritual isolation of misfits and outcasts of the South...

' sister, Rita Smith, who worked as an editor's assistant at Madmoiselle recommended Capote's story "Miriam." She assisted George Davis, who gave Truman his first start in being published.

Plot summary


"Miriam" is about a 61-year-old widow named Mrs. H. T. Miller who wants to spend the remaining years of her life alone in her apartment near the East River
East River
The East River is a tidal strait in New York City. It connects Upper New York Bay on its south end to Long Island Sound on its north end. It separates Long Island from the island of Manhattan and the Bronx on the North American mainland...

 after the death of her husband, H. T. Miller. She is very lonely, has no friends to speak of and does not keep in touch with any of her relatives.

One day, going into a movie theater, she meets a young, intelligent girl named Miriam. Mrs. Miller is intrigued due to the fact that her first name is also Miriam. The girl Miriam asks Mrs. Miller to buy her a movie ticket because the usher will not let her in. She gives Mrs. Miller 25 cents (two dimes and a nickel) to buy her a ticket. They part as Mrs. Miller goes in search of a seat. When the movie ends, Mrs. Miller returns home. The following week, there is a knock on Mrs. Miller's door. When she answers it, she finds out it is Miriam, the girl she met at the movie theater. Mrs. Miller asks Miriam to go home, but Miriam refuses and asks Mrs. Miller to make her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. After Miriam agrees to leave if given the sandwich, she goes into Mrs. Miller's bedroom and finds a cameo brooch that was given to Mrs. Miller by her deceased husband. She asks Mrs. Miller if she can keep it, and Mrs. Miller, despite her desire to stop her from taking it, relents in helplessness. Miriam then goes back to the couch and finishes her sandwich.

Before leaving, Miriam asks Mrs. Miller for a kiss goodnight, but Mrs. Miller refuses. Miriam walks over to a nearby vase and smashes it on the floor, tramples the bouquet, then leaves. The next morning, Mrs. Miller leaves her apartment to spend the day shopping at various stores around New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

. Upon arriving home, Miriam returns, insistently ringing the doorbell while Mrs. Miller refuses to open the door. After the doorbell ringing ends, Mrs. Miller goes to her door to see if Miriam has left. Miriam has not, and rushes inside the house before Mrs. Miller can close the door. Miriam perches upon the couch and tells Mrs. Miller to bring in the large box she brought with her. Out of curiosity, she does. While commenting on the cherries, almond cakes, and white flowers that Mrs. Miller bought while she was shopping, Miriam tells Mrs. Miller to open the box. All she finds are clothes and a second doll similar to the one Miriam was holding. Miriam then tells Mrs. Miller that she is going to live with her.

A frightened Mrs. Miller goes to the apartment downstairs where a young couple lives. Mrs. Miller tells them that a young girl keeps on appearing and will not leave her alone. She convinces the man living there to check upstairs while his wife comforts Mrs. Miller. The man returns downstairs and says that there is no girl upstairs. Mrs. Miller asks if there was a large box, and the man says that there wasn't. Mrs. Miller goes back upstairs to find no one is there. Scared more than ever at the startling emptiness of the house, she slumps onto the couch, drained. She closes her eyes and calms down, reminding herself that she is Mrs. H. T. Miller, the woman who lives alone and does everything for herself. She then becomes aware of another sound, the sound of a silk dress ruffling. She stiffens and fearfully opens her eyes to see Miriam staring at her. The last line of the story " 'Hello,' said Miriam" is ambiguous, in that it is unclear which Miriam is speaking, the girl or Mrs. Miller.

Publication history


"Miriam" was reprinted as early as 1949 in Capote's short story collection A Tree of Night and Other Stories. It was published in independent hardback form in September 1981, under the title Miriam: A Classic Story of Loneliness. Most recently it was included in The Complete Stories of Truman Capote, published in 2004.

Reception and critical analysis


"Miriam" is noted for having a "dreamlike, phychological quality" and a theme exploring double personality
Dissociative identity disorder
Dissociative identity disorder is a psychiatric diagnosis and describes a condition in which a person displays multiple distinct identities , each with its own pattern of perceiving and interacting with the environment....

 disorder.

Reynolds Price
Reynolds Price
Reynolds Price was an American novelist, poet, dramatist, essayist and the James B. Duke Professor of English at Duke University. Apart from English literature, Price had a lifelong interest in ancient languages and Biblical scholarship...

 observes that two of Capote's early short stories, "Miriam," along with "A Jug of Silver" reflect his familiarity with fellow contemporary southern writing, specifically that of Carson McCullers
Carson McCullers
Carson McCullers was an American writer. She wrote novels, short stories, and two plays, as well as essays and some poetry. Her first novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter explores the spiritual isolation of misfits and outcasts of the South...

. He also notes "Miriam" is imbued with a "perhaps too-easy eeriness.".

Readers have noted symbolism in the story, in particular the use of colors in clothing. Blue, Mrs. Miller’s favorite color, is seen as a symbol of sadness. Plum is viewed as a symbol of wealth and white a symbol for being clean, good, and healthful. Notably Miriam often wears white, and many times during the story it is snowing, and snow is also white. Miriam may be viewed as a symbol for the angel of death.

Adaptation


Adaptations of "Miriam" are incorporated into Frank Perry
Frank Perry
Frank J. Perry, Jr. was an American stage and film director, producer and screenwriter. His directorial debut, the 1962 film David and Lisa, earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Director....

's 1969 anthology film Trilogy
Trilogy (film)
Trilogy is a 1969 drama film directed by Frank Perry. It was listed to compete at the 1968 Cannes Film Festival, but the festival was cancelled due to the events of May 1968 in France.-Cast:...

(aka Truman Capote's Trilogy), which also includes adaptations of "A Christmas Memory" and "Among the Paths to Eden."