Playing With Reader’s Feelings: Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory

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Christmas Memory by Truman Capote is a short story that describes the last Christmas holidays of a little boy and an elderly woman, the child’s cousin. This story is the example of an unfair means in literature: an abusive attempt to inspire in the reader an excessive feeling of pity. In this case, the attempt may be considered successful. The piece of work is written masterfully and attracts the reader into the portrayed events from the first line and until the end.

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The life of the narrator’s friend, an elderly woman, who lives in the house of her relatives as a maid, evokes a lively sympathy. She is infinitely good and optimistic despite the fact that she has mild mental retardation. She knows how to diversify even a dull, gray, desolate life and how to create a holiday for herself and others. Refusing from the most necessary things, this remarkable woman gathers small amounts of money given to her for personal expenses to make a celebration once a year on Christmas Day. Her cakes are hardly needed for those people to whom she sends them. The President does not need them for sure. Mercifully, she does not understand it. The main character—a little boy—does not understand it as well. Christmas cakes, rare cards from casual acquaintances and memories of every event, which occurs beyond everyday life, allow a little boy and his elderly friend to feel connected to some other bright, beautiful and happy life. They know how to appreciat the little things and how to entertain each other. They are very attractive characters. It is not surprising that their dog managed to survive distemper and two rattlesnake bites. It can’t be otherwise in the company of such people. The power of love is able to ward off even death, at least for some time.

If the author had stopped at the description of the Christmas tree, the gifts, and wonderful homemade decorations, it would have become a lovely Christmas tale – bright, kind and sentimental, in a good way, but Capote decided to bring the element of realism into his story. Right in the middle of his description of Christmas holidays he notifies the reader that this is Queenie’s (the terrier’s name) last Christmas – next year she will die and will be buried in the same place where she loved to bury her bones in reserve. Then the author tells the reader about the death of boy’s cousin, which was preceded by several years of complete solitude. She lost everything – the boy, the dog and even the awareness of the current moment in life. The last loss was probably fortunate.

Readers might feel very sorry for this woman. On top of that, Capote inspires the feeling of real hatred to the author. His talent was clairvoyant and he knew how to arouse the reader’s empathy with the characters’ lives. However, this is not fair. A retarded lonely old woman, an orphan boy, not caring selfish relatives, a dog killed by a horrse; then an elderly woman all alone in the kitchen, the premonition of a boy growing up, which will inevitably alienate him from his old friend, her coming solitude in an old age – even one of these moments is enough to bring tears to reader’s eyes. The author gathered all these tipping points in one story to really depress the reader morally, not caring for details.

Not all people are lucky in this life. Each person reacts differently to the blows of fate. The story describes a woman, who, in spite of everything, has preserved the love for people in her heart, as well as the desire to bring them joy, and the ability to enjoy herself. This is a wonderful example. Consequently, the story could be great if Capote did not abuse the feeling of pity. He just knocks the wind out of the reader, though it is clear that the life of a mentally handicapped person is always tragic. It is very difficult to change things in such life for the better. This is not the fault of other people. It’s the decision of someone rotating the wheel. Some writers, as in this case, use a real-life tragedy to create stories doomed for success. There is something unprincipled in it. It is apparent that any author always tries to manipulate the feelings of the reader. A talented writer does this successfully and brilliantly. People read books partly because they affect their feelings, not just their mind. However there should be some limit, otherwise a lovely and deeply moral story may cause a rejection.

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