There is no better way to understand an event than to experience it first-hand. History is an imperfect thing, and as stories are passed down, people forget their true meaning. In “The Witness”, Katherine Anne Porter’s “Uncle Jimbilly” has experienced the horrors of slavery personally, and is frustrated when children of the next generation do not fully understand and respect the topic. The way Porter describes these characters subtly shows the reader their feelings toward each other. Direct characterization may not be the most subtle form, but it quickly and efficiently gets a point across. The children are given descriptions like, “flighty”, “thoughtful”, and “sad looking”. This brief characterization causes one to see the children simply as innocent young minds. Uncle Jimbilly is described as an old man who “hobbles on a stick” with greenish gray, wooly hair. He is “bent almost double” from years spent bowing over things. This reflects his former life as a slave. He has clearly lived a long, hard life, and his battered body shows us this. Indirect characterization helps to provide a deeper understanding of a character. Through the questions the children have for Uncle Jimbilly, especially the younger two, Porter demonstrates their innocence further. “The children thought Uncle Jimbilly had got over his slavery very well.” This mentality creates some questions the children believe to be harmless; they do not fully understand the emotional strain Uncle Jimbilly faces. However, with his responses, the reader comprehends his true feelings on the matter. Maria asks him to carve “Safe in Heaven” on the tombstone for her rabbit. At her question Uncle Jimbilly grows impatient and continues to reminisce about the boys in the swamp and the unfair ways they were treated. This highlights the bitter feelings he has toward his past and the fact that the children do not understand his suffering. Katherine Anne Porter’s use of characterization leaves the...
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