Short Story #249: He by Katherine Anne Porter

Title:  He

Author:  Katherine Anne Porter

Summary

Photo of Katherine Anne Porter.  Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katherine_Anne_Porter#mediaviewer/File:Katherine_Anne_Porter.jpg
The Whipples teeter on financial ruin and are feel the pain of hunger throughout the winter months.  However, they also have pride and would never allow people to look down upon them.  The Whipple's second son appears to have some kind of disability as he does not talk and appears simple-minded.  The boy is only referred to with third person pronouns (He, Him).  The mother constantly states that she loved him more than anyone less.  Neighbors feel bad for the Whipples and speculate on why He is like the way He is.  Mrs. Whipple found herself constantly defending Him, regardless of where it was necessary.  He was a large boy and never got hurt.  Thus, the family regularly put him to work on the farm doing tasks that they would not ask the other children to do.  He was passive, compliant and never complained.  This meant that they often took advantage of him, taking blankets from him for the other children and providing them with more support.  They send him up into trees, off to get stung by bees and other dangerous tasks, despite him being the most loved.  Mrs. Whipple received a letter from her brother about visiting and she insists that to butch one of the pigs that is not fully developed yet.  The husband protests because they will lose money.  She insists on it and the husband acquiesces  However, she has to get the growing pig away from the mother.  She decides that He can distract the mother and grab the pig.  He does this and Mrs. Whipple slits its throat quickly and right in front of him.  He runs away in apparent horror.  She continues to clean the small pig and finds that it hardly worth the effort.  When the day comes for the brother to visit, Mrs. Whipple gets angry at He for getting dirty.  The meal goes fine but afterward, the husband and wife bicker about the waste the meal represented.  Winter comes and things are hard.  As they look to cut corners, they increasingly come at His expense.  He becomes sick enough for a doctor who says he needs to be better taken care of.  He slowly recovers though he still has some troubles.  As spring comes, Mr. Whipple makes a deal to have a bull impregnate his cows and sends Him to bring the bull.  Mrs. Whipple increasingly worries about Him with the bull but it goes without incident.  As fall comes again, the other two children are no longer around to work the farm and so more work is shifted onto Him.  During the winter, he slips on a patch of ice and thrashes about, unable to get up.  For months, he is bed-bound and the doctor recommends the Country Home for him.  The Whipples debate this for a while as they take it as a sign of charity.  They finally decide to do it and set a day for him to go.  When they are getting ready to send him along, Mrs. Whipple finds Him crying.  Mrs. Whipple tries to understand the nature of the cries and reflects on all the ways she had been cruel to him over the years.  Finally, she regrets that he was ever born.

Reflection

There's a lot in this story to contend with and process.  One fascinating element is of course that we have no point of view of He.  He is but a pronoun--no name, no expressions.  So much about He is communicated through the mother and her motivations and ability to accurately represent the truth are questionable since so much of her identity is wrapped up in what other's think and that in the end, she largely regrets His birth.  We learn very little about He but His tears at the end are very telling in that they do communicate some sense of inner life that his family largely denied him.  

Short Story #249 out of 365
Rating: 4 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  7/20/2014
Source:  The short story can be found at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.



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