Character Analysis of Katherine Anne Porter's He
In Katherine Anne Porter's short story "He," she presents several themes that she develops primarily through the actions of the main characters, particulary Mrs. Whipple. Porter portrays a poor, lower class Southern family and the difficulties they encounter. More importantly, she centers the story around the feelings of shame, pride, and an exaggerated concern for appearances through Mrs. Whipple's's relationship with her mentally retarded son and her behavior toward Him. Other characters, such as her husband Mr. Whipple and their two "able-bodied" children Adna and Emly serve to expand the story's themes and highlight the extremity of Mrs. Whipple's actions.
Early in the story we see how vital appearance is to Mrs. Whipple. She remarks to her husband that no one should ever hear them complain (324). Her real effort to maintain a front for her neighbors, however, surrounds her "simple-minded son," who never has any identity other than "He." It seems that Mrs. Whipple fears that if those around her know He is retarded, this would reflect badly on her character. Many times, unfortunately, parents of children with any birth defect worry they have some blame to account for. Mrs. Whipple, unfortunately, represents a rather extreme case. She seemed to believe that by "over-loving" her son in public and refusing to acknowledge his handicap, she could avoid social stigma and somehow quell her own insecurities. Mrs. Whipple comments to whoever would listen that He is strong, capable, and "He can do anything . . . " (325). Such exclamations, the author tells us "seemed to ease her mind" (324). In these quotations we see clearly how Mrs. Whipple's actions do not represent a true immense affection fro Him of a belief in his normality, but a desperate attempt at self- validation.
In addition, Mrs. Whipple shows "public concern" for her son, but behind closed doors he does not get special, or even equal, treatment. In addition, Mrs. Whipple shows "public concern" for her son, but behind closed doors he does not get special, or even equal, treatment. When he climbed trees or later goes to get the bull, Mrs. Whipple is not worried about His safety but what the neighbors will think if he gets hurt. She is petrified that someone would say she had neglected her duties. However, when Emly gets cold, she gets His blankets (325). Although Mrs. Whipple makes grand demonstrations to her neighbors, He seems somewhat exploited in the household. Even after he becomes ill, he works in the field. After his illness during the winter, "He walked as if His feet hurt Him." The very next sentence, though, tells us that despite this, "He was able to run a cotton planter during the season" (329). A genuine concern for His welfare would not lead to such actions. If Mrs. Whipple really feared for his life as much as she said she did, she would exhibit and act on a desire...