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Genre Analysis of the Modern Classic 'A Christmas Memory'

Claudia Miclaus
"A Christmas Memory" certainly is one of Truman Capote's most read and enjoyed short-stories. Let's discover his writing style, and ways to build the tension through this Penlighten post.
This story focuses on a very particular situation - the memories of a 7-year-old boy named Buddy (in which we can easily recognize Capote himself).
This story is regarding the special "rituals" he, and a cousin of his, the dear old Miss Sook, used to sacredly perform each year, sometime around Christmas.
The account of such repetitive actions performed by creatures that were so dear to the author-narrator gives one, a sense of stability and belonging, together with the tremendous sadness of having lost both his beloved Miss Sook, and her lovely companion, the rat terrier named Queenie.
It is this mixture of past safety-feeling, and the sorrow following its loss, that helps create a very peculiar atmosphere. It is an atmosphere that readers are almost unknowingly trapped into. In order to achieve this, the writer makes use of some techniques and strategies.
Thus, from the very beginning, the reader is invited to take a plunge into the story: "Imagine a morning in late November." One of the means that help the reader get transported into the story's atmosphere is the use of Present Tense Simple and Continuous.
Most of the story is in the Present Tense, with a few exceptions. The alternation of Present Tense and Past Tense (like, for instance: "The other Buddy died in the 1880's, when she was still a child. She is still a child.") reveals in fact the author's intention to reconnect them through his story-telling, and to revive his long lost memories.
We are thus introduced to the joyful, vivid atmosphere in which Buddy, and the "sprightly" cousin of his, are engaged in feverish preparations for their annual traditions. They are making fruitcakes for all those they like or admire, going on a trip to the woods to find the perfect tree, and exchanging Christmas gifts.
This schemata employed by the author is very convincingly constructed; mostly due to the high number of details that he is willing to provide us with, throughout his story-telling.
Then, as the story draws to its end, the atmosphere gains in tension, which gradually develops from the act of Buddy's growing up and being sent to a military school, to Miss Sook's. A morning arrives in November, a leafless birdless coming of winter morning, when she cannot rouse herself to exclaim: "Oh my, it's fruitcake weather!"
The ending is thus, symmetrical to the beginning of the short story, and at the same time, opposing it. The beginning is joyful, uplifting, whereas the end manages to render, and even induce feelings of intense pain and inner struggle.
The death of the two is in fact the unexpected twist in this short story. The reader is surprised and deeply touched by this sudden change of tonality, and by the content which seems to have changed its initial course. At any rate, what remains the same all along the short story are the characters. Buddy is indirectly depicted in this story.
The only physical traits we can find is that he has eyes big as berries and that he is very young. The language he uses, which is by far too elaborate and sophisticated for a seven-year old boy: "purchases", "wallowing in the pleasures of conspiracy", "carnage", "a dead-tired disposition", "he glowers at us through Satan-tilted eyes", etc.
Because of these important details, we can easily recognize Capote behind that childish mask. Or maybe the authorial intention was to focus rather on the description of Miss Sook, and re-creating the whole atmosphere of that blissful age of his.
In fact, her portrait is done in every single detail, starting from her physical traits to the listing of all the things she has done, and even the ones she hasn't.
"In addition to never having watched a movie, she has never: eaten in a restaurant, traveled more than five miles from home, received or sent a telegram, read anything except funny papers and the Bible, worn cosmetics, cursed, wished someone harm, told a lie on purpose, let a hungry dog go hungry. "
"Things she has done, does do: killed with a hoe the biggest rattlesnake ever seen in this count, dip snuff , tame hummingbirds till they balance on her finger, tell ghost stories so tingling they chill you in July, talk to herself, grow the prettiest Japanese quince in town, know the recipe for every old time Indian cure, including a magical wart remover."
This is very important for creating the exact image of Miss Sook in the reader's mind. The author seems to mention all those facts, as an attempt to bring her back to life. Apart from direct characterizations, she is also defined by her actions and gestures. She reveals herself as a kind, caring, and childish being who finds her happiness in simple things.
All these perceptions belong to the narrator and his representations of actions, character(s), and thoughts. Apart from the implied author, Miss Sook and the animal character, there is one more element implied in the story, and that is the reader.
The author does not hesitate to directly address the reader in order to get his/her attention: "imagine...", "just try it", and so on. And the writer fully achieves his purpose of carrying us back to his very own "Christmas Memory."