Truman Capote’s “Miriam” leaves the audience wondering how Mrs. Miriam Miller becomes overtaken by the ghost of a young girl who has the same name as she does. Is she real or a figment of her imagination? Although most of Capote’s short stories seem to be on the darker side, this story in particular has more than that. This story questions the everyday life of the living and how they manage to live without truly living outside of their habitual norm, their own shell. This is one of the reasons in which Miriam is overtaken by her own “self.” Young Miriam is a reflection of the main character, Mrs. Miriam Miller, who lives on her own and is scared to leave her normal routine because she is so accustomed it. As soon as Mrs. Miller has broken her own routine she quickly puts up a defense mechanism in order to survive this dilemma that she has put herself into. She has become so dependent on her routine that without it she becomes afraid of her own self. This situation has made her realize that she is alone with no one but herself and that scares her. The realization that she is alone is a new fear that has overwhelmed her. After been out of touch with life outside of her home and accustomed to her own solitary life, Mrs. Miller does not understand the reality of her situation until she meets Miriam. Mrs. Miller creates a double figure and through her begins to see the reality of her dull life, and finds a suppressed personality that she has been too afraid of.
The Double Figure
Capote’s ambiguous ending of “Miriam” gives an open interpretation behind the meaning of Mrs. Miller’s fear of the character, Miriam, whom she had been willing to help at the beginning of the story. This fear arises as the story progresses and as Miriam begins to make her way into Mrs. Miller’s life. “Is Miriam, the source of Mrs. Miller’s terror, a creation of her own mind borne out of years of loneliness and unacknowledged despair? Capote leaves us to wonder as Miriam again looms over Mrs. Miller at the close of his haunting tale.”(Flinner, 2009.) The ambiguous ending Capote left in the story is in itself a metaphor for what Miriam is to Mrs. Miller. It demonstrates how Miriam takes control of Mrs. Miller’s life from the beginning. When Mrs. Miller meets Miriam she is instantly taken by the girl’s appearance. She is willing to pay the girl’s way into the movie. Because Mrs. Miller has acted out of character and broken her daily routine by going to watch a movie, she has involuntarily created a figure. She creates a double figure in order to carry out her desire to watch the movie and act out of the norm. Miriam becomes her double figure but she soon realizes she cannot bear to confront it. She disturbs her “peace”, her solitude which has been her only friend. “The double in ‘Miriam’ conveys an impression of objective reality that is rare for double stories. It is true that Miriam has no last name, is not seen by others, asserts suggestively (about the movies) that “I’ve never been before” (italics supplied), and seems to emerge at the end of the story from Mrs. Miller’s reverie; however, the two meet in an ordinary public place, young Miriam has her own assortment of clothes and possessions, and she comes from the home of an old man who makes a brief appearance in the story. Thus, the double in “Miriam” is as much a character as a subjective phenomenon, which distinguishes the story from those where the Dopplegänger is obviously a figure of fantasy or hallucination (as, for example, Gogol’s “The Nose” or Andersen’s “The Shadow”) or is clearly an allegorical figure embodying a psychological or moral aspect of the protagonist (as, for example, Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). (Garson, 1992)
The Reality of Mrs. Miller’s Life
Mrs. Miller’s life has been a solitary life full of repetition and ongoing routines that were always the same. The reality of her life seems to escape her. She did not endeavor to look further. She could not escape the world she had made for herself. Mrs. Miller had become almost unknown to her neighbors whom seldom noticed her. This is the reality of her life but she does not seem to see it, or chooses not to see it. “The opening paragraph of ‘Miriam’ focuses on the emptiness of Mrs. H. T. Miller’s life: “Her interests were narrow, she had no friends to speak of, and she rarely journeyed farther than the grocery store.” That she is first identified by her late husband’s initials immediately suggests a person without an identity of her own. Sixty-one-years old, Mrs. Miller lives a sterile existence, cleaning her small apartment, feeding herself and her canary, carrying out other invariable daily acts to fill her empty life. She is so isolated from real life that none of her neighbors know her.” (Garson, 1992) This double self that Mrs. Miller has created for herself is the part of her that she has avoided in the past. Miriam begins to make her feel her loneliness, her empty life full of nothing. Miriam becomes the fear of Mrs. Miriam because Miriam represents the person that she does not want to confront. Miriam helps her see the reality of the life that she has been leading up to this point. Mrs. Miller starts to realize that her life is an empty nest, and that her life as full as she thought it was with all the daily routines was merely a pretense of the life that she wanted to have. Confronting Miriam was to confront that she was alone with no one but herself and this scares her.
A Suppressed Personality
Miriam is a representation of the personality which Mrs. Miller suppressed. This double self that Mrs. Miller conjures begins to surface as she steps out of her daily routine. The beginning of Miriam surfaces as she decides to do out of the ordinary. The reason for Mrs. Miller fear is the new and out of ordinary life that Miriam, her double self, represents. The personality that is her but cannot face without fear of change or being different. “Capote’s characters are anxiety-ridden, obsessive, and narcissistic. They live in their own new gothic environment: an encapsulated and terrifying internal world from which they long to escape but cannot break out. Each of them fears self-revelation, knowledge of the buried self whom they have tried to flee. This hidden self often appears to the haunted protagonist as a vision in the mirror, reflection in the window, voice on the telephone, or meeting with a strangely familiar “other.” They have sleeping and waking nightmares that reveal them to be alone defenseless, naked.” (Garson, 1992) Miriam is therefore a suppressed personality that has come to the surface because of her decision of getting out of her routine. Her reality was not the real reality of her life. She was acting outside of herself and this act gives the personality she has been avoiding to surface and show herself to her as Miriam. It is almost as if she is remembering herself from when she was younger, and is seeing for the first time who she is and what she wants. Her fear to accept her loneliness impedes her from being key parts of herself. “The fear and sense of captivity that overshadow these stories result from the individual’s inability to accept and respond properly to reality. It means refusal to accept mysterious and frightening elements within the self, for the persons encountered by the protagonist are most properly viewed as projections of inner personae.” (Nance, 2002)
The dark tone Capote sets for this story gives it the feel of the grief that Mrs. Miller experiences in order to come into terms with her other self, the reality of her loneliness, and her suppressed personality. It is part of what she lives. He portrays her life as being empty and nothing even with all her daily activities. He conveys a meaningless life in isolation that has terrified the character into a state of oblivion. It is this state which drives the story. It is the dark and gothic style in which Capote wrote the story in that makes it the more interesting because it not only embodies the character but also her anxiety. The character’s psyche is considered in the story because we know that Miriam is not another person but something that has sprung from Mrs. Miller’s psyche. Capote tells the eerie story of “Miriam” in this style to convey the character’s anxiety about who they are and coming to terms with that. The surfacing of Mrs. Miller’s suppressed self, Miriam, comes to life due to Mrs. Miller’s anxiety. Although traumatizing and scary, coming to terms with the person that she suppressed for so long eventually comes out to awaken her from a deep sleep, a state of oblivion in the world. The ambiguous ending of Capote’s short story makes it clear that Mrs. Miller is left in terror of looking at her own self still unwilling to come terms with her other self, the reality of her lonely life, and the personality she has suppressed for so long.