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Truman Capote’s “Miriam”: the Theme of Death in the Story

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  • Category: Death

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“Miriam” is a short story written by Truman Capote, originally published in June 1945 in Mademoiselle magazine. First edition in solo book form was published in 1981 under the title Miriam: A Classic Story of Loneliness. It is a story about an old lady, Mrs. Miller. One day, she meets a girl who is also called Miriam and this girl starts to invade Mrs. Miller’s stereotypic life. Mrs. Miller does not like it but she finds out that there is nothing she can do about it. The end of the story is open and there are a lot of symbols in the story so the readers can come up with many possible interpretations.

This essay will focus on the theme of death in this story. There are lot of symbols connected to Mrs. Miller’s preparation for death and it allows us the interpretation of this story dealing with oncoming death and its connection with the small girl.

Viewed in this way, Miriam is something supernatural, not necessarily a ghost but definitely a herald of death. It seems like she is changing her personality according to the gender and name of her next “victim” but always looks unearthly – her silver-white hair, fragile body construction, eyes lacking any childlike quality, strange clothes. This suggests that Miriam is a kind of ghost because nobody else than Mrs. Miller can see her – for example when the man is looking for her in Mrs. Miller’s apartment and even the people in the theatre would stare at such a strange child.

Another aspect to consider is the preparation for death, represented by Mrs. Miller’s behavior in the story. She is used to live a stereotypical life and because of that, she is curious in the beginning when she meets Miriam because it seems like an upcoming change in her life. They are both called Miriam which Mrs. Miller finds funny. Miriam, in reaction, said “Moderately.” She knows the real reason of her name – she is Mrs. Miller’s own death herald so she has the same name to be familiar for her and make her departure from this world more pleasant.

Later on, Mrs. Miller lost track of the days and that night the change is coming. Miriam visits her and she does not want to let Miriam in but there is nothing she can do about it. Miriam says: “You know, I don’t think you’re glad I came,” as Mrs. Miller is still not able to accept the oncoming death.

A further instance of this is the situation with the cameo brooch. Miriam takes it to remind Mrs. Miller of her husband, to become more familiar and to show her that she does not need a keepsake anymore because they will see each other soon. Mrs. Miller has a strange feeling and she realizes she cannot resist. When Miriam asks Mrs. Miller to kiss her good night and she refuses, Miriam replied: “As you like.” She knows that the death is unavoidable and if it is not now, it will happen next time.

As Miriam is leaving, she destroys the imitations to show that imitations last forever but we are not immortal, it symbolizes the death. Mrs. Miller is not feeling good that night and she is having strange dreams as a symbol that we all follow the death during our journey through life. Afterwards, a sudden change came as it happens often before death, Mrs. Miller catches the shopping spree and she is in a good mood. Walking down the street, she meets an old man. It might be suggested that this old man is in fact just Miriam, reminding herself in another body, showing Mrs. Miller that there is no place to hide and that she is alone in the end. That meeting also induces Mrs. Miller to buy six white roses instead of the imitations, the vase, the cherries and the cakes.

In the evening, Mrs. Miller does not want to let Miriam in but there is no other option. All the bought things and the dolls Miriam brought with her are there just to make the departure more pleasant and Miriam also brings all her clothes with her because she will be with Mrs. Miller until her last moment. Mrs. Miller is afraid because the end is near and she is trying to get some help but we are all alone in our last moments in life. Nobody else could see Miriam because they will live longer and this is not their last moment. Mrs. Miller has some strange feelings and Miriam is back. Mrs. Miller’s eyes are open to a direct stare, which is usual for dead people. When Miriam says: “Hello,” it means Welcome in the world after death.

In brief, this story describes how people prepare themselves for death, even if they do it unconsciously and the death is represented by the small girl Miriam as the herald of death.

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