He by Katherine Anne Porter
In He by Katherine Anne Porter we have the theme of appearance, struggle, guilt, resentment and denial. Taken from her Flowering Judas and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Porter may be exploring the theme of appearance. At the beginning of the story Mr Whipple doesn’t want people to know how much she and her family struggle and she chastises her husband when he makes reference to how difficult life is for the family. Telling him ‘don’t ever let a soul hear us complain.’ This line is important as Mrs Whipple is aware that should people find out how difficult life is for them, they will gossip about her and her family and as such they may be ostracized by the community or thought of in a lesser light. Which would suggest how important appearance is to Mrs Whipple. She may be more concerned about how she will look to her neighbours rather than how her circumstances are affecting her.
Though some critics might suggest that Mrs Whipple is being compassionate towards her son and being his voice. She also has a tendency to put him at risk without thinking about the consequences. This is noticeable when her son goes into the pig pen to get the pig. Rather than Mr Whipple or Mrs Whipple herself getting the pig she leaves it up to her son even though she knows how dangerous it is. This is not the only occasion in the story in whereby Mrs Whipple puts her own interest or feelings first rather than focusing on how her son might feel. When her son gets his clothes dirty Mrs Whipple boxes (or slaps) him and rather than being concerned about how her son may feel because he has been hit by his mother. Mrs Whipple appears to be only concerned about how she feels and how difficult her day has been.
It is also interesting that out of all Mrs Whipple’s children, her simple-minded son is not given new clothes to keep him warm during the winter which is probably the reason he is sick in February. The doctor telling Mrs Whipple ‘you must put more cover onto Him, too.’ This line may be important as it highlights again that Mrs Whipple is not as focused on her son as she would like others to believe. It is also noticeable that when Mrs Whipple gives her son her own blanket from her bed she tells her husband ‘they can’t say we didn’t do everything for Him.’ Again this line may also be important as it suggests that Mrs Whipple is more focused on what people will think about her (appearance) than she is on her son’s well-being. Mrs Whipple continues to focus on how she will appear to others when her son brings the bull home. She prays to God that nothing will happen her son, not really out of any concern for her son but because of what others might think about her should anything happen him.
There is also some symbolism in the story which may be important. By capitalizing He and Him throughout the story Porter manages to place an emphasis on Mrs Whipple’s son. However even though Porter is placing a focus on Mrs Whipple’s son Mrs Whipple herself, despite her own beliefs, may not necessarily have her son’s best interest at heart. By also not disclosing the son’s name Porter may also be suggesting that Mrs Whipple could possibly be blaming her son for the position (and struggles) she finds herself in. He is given no identity which might suggest Mrs Whipple holds her son responsible for how her life has turned out. The bull may also have some symbolic importance. Porter may be introducing it into the story to highlight how selfish Mrs Whipple is or to highlight to the reader how focused she is on herself rather than on being conscious of the dangers to her son who goes to Ferguson’s farm to get the bull.
The end of the story is also interesting as Porter continues to focus on the theme of appearance. When the doctor suggests that Mrs Whipple’s son should go to the County Home for treatment her reaction is ‘I won’t have it said I sent my sick child off among strangers.’ This line may be important as it again suggests that Mrs Whipple is more concerned about what others (neighbours) will think than she is about her son’s well-being. It is also noticeable that Mrs Whipple is in denial about how sick her son is, believing that he will only be going to the County Home for a short period despite Mr Whipple telling her that the move is permanent. Porter also appears to be exploring the theme of guilt while Mrs Whipple is on her way to the County Home. As her son is crying she remembers the time that she hit him and made him get the bull. However the most striking thing about the end of the story is how upbeat Mrs Whipple is when the decision is made to put her son in the County Home. She imagines life for her family improving now that she no longer has to care for her son. This may be important as it suggests that rather than being the caring mother she would like others to believe she is. Mrs Whipple in reality may have actually resented looking after her son.