In Defense of Miranda in "Old Mortality" Essay

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In Defense of Miranda in “Old Mortality”

Thomas F. Walsh alleges in his article “Miranda’s Ghost in ‘Old Mortality’ that while Miranda spends her life disgusted by her family and the myths of her lineage she adopts the romantic attitude of her elders later in life and is therefore worthy of criticism. However, it is clear from a thorough analysis of the text that while Miranda and Amy exhibit some similarity, Amy as a character is patently Miranda’s antithesis if only for the fact that their life paths failed to follow similar trajectories. This is inherent in the fact that Amy was in fact beautiful in a family culture that valued looks above all else whereas Miranda simply was not beautiful, as evidenced by the manner with which her family treated her. Had Miranda been beautiful like Amy, she simply would not have experienced such friction when trying to understand and relate to her family. The outcome is two people with similar origins who grew up to be disparate individuals. Walsh, to his credit, intuitively characterizes and zeroes in on specific parallels between Amy’s mentality and Miranda’s. His thesis is on point yet is betrayed by the limits of his argumentative ability. The argument outlined falls short of convincing the reader; it could perhaps benefit from further investigation. Walsh begins by summarizing Miranda (and her sister’s) resent of Amy’s photograph being inconsistent with their elder’s recollection of who Amy was (a central tenet to the novella). He proceeds to argue that Miranda displays cognitive dissonance when she rejects Eva’s later description of Amy as being overhyped and not worthy of extolment. Walsh describes Miranda’s insistence that Amy was not as bad as Eva asserts as being a form of romanticism all its own: “She thinks that the truth about herself lies only in the future when it lies also in the past, the clue to which can be found in her remarkable resemblance to the real Amy of the photograph” (Walsh 58). Next, Walsh discusses Miranda’s childhood fixation with the family legend of Amy, pointing out that Miranda’s desire to emulate Amy’s look and style is suggestive of Miranda’s resemblance to Amy. According to Walsh, this point is corroborated by the physical comparison Harry and Gabriel frequently draw between Miranda and Amy, Harry stating that the girls do not measure up to Amy (Porter 37) and Gabriel proclaiming “Look, Honey, don’t you think they resemble Amy a little? Especially around the eyes” (Porter 45). Walsh then begins to explore what personality traits Miranda and Amy share. Both women are iconoclastic, tending to chastise and distance themselves from the family’s shared values as well as oppose falling into whatever norm the family expects them to fill. They both attempt to differentiate themselves from the family by marrying into loveless marriages. Walsh goes so far as to say that the “similarities between Amy and Miranda are so deep that both seem to unite to become the composite heroine of the story” (Walsh 60). He contends that Miranda is a reincarnated Amy of sorts, the ghost of Amy having taken possession of her niece. Evidence is provided in Miranda and Eva’s encounter wherein Miranda, being Amy’s second life, has awoken Eva’s hatred and Miranda defends her aunt with information she ought not to know so well. Finally, Walsh contends that Amy and Miranda were both oppressed by the generation before them, namely their fathers and grandfathers, which in turn prompts the two as girls to protest their fathers. As mentioned, the argument at base is appealing but the shaky evidence offered does not amount to an arresting take away. First, concerning the exchange between Miranda and Eva at the culmination of the story, Walsh comes across as alarmist when he purports that Miranda casts her integrity aside when she chooses to reject Eva’s account of Amy. “The irony is that Miranda, having dismissed both her family’s and Eva’s versions of Amy as…