Simply put, personification is a literary device that grants personality to inanimate objects or natural phenomena. This is also known as anthropomorphizing, or granting human qualities to nonhuman objects. Personification occurs in the story predominantly through Death’s appearance as a tired old man. Death, a natural phenomenon, is literally personified, transformed into a character that sighs and is able to pick fruit from a tree. All of the descriptive language devoted to Death is a form of personification. If Aunty Misery is indeed intended to symbolize misery and its presence in the world, then she is also a salient example of personification. In addition, the pear tree in the story is personified when it is described as keeping Aunty Misery ‘‘company.’’
Descriptive language in ‘‘Aunty Misery’’ is of note mainly because of its remarkable absence. The story has no specificity. It takes place in an unknown time and there are no clues indicating in what period in history the narrative may be set. The same is true of the story’s location. Aunty Misery is not described, nor are the neighborhood children. Most of the characters in the story are inanimate objects or generic groups of people (pharmacists, undertakers, doctors). The rare instances of descriptive language are reserved for the pear tree, which is beautiful, but grows twisted with age. The sorcerer in disguise has an ‘‘honest’’ look. Death, of course, receives the most descriptive treatment. This is no surprise given that he is a major figure in the story.
Aunty Misery is the main character and protagonist of the story. But Aunty Misery’s role as a hero is questionable. She could arguably be described as an antihero, a literary figure whose values and or actions are antithetical (opposed) to heroism. While Aunty Misery lives a solitary life, this is not necessarily a transgression in and of itself. However, her isolation is partly why the neighborhood children pester her. She could also choose to share her pears, but instead guards them zealously, ultimately transforming her fruit-bearing tree into a prison to which only she holds the keys. On the other hand, Aunty Misery is kind and charitable. Although too selfish to die, she does release Death back into the world in consideration for others.
Third-Person Limited Point of View
‘‘Aunty Misery’’ is told from a third-person limited point of view. This narrative device features an unknown narrator who is often (but not always) objective.More notably, the narrator is only able to portray the inner thoughts and emotions of one character. (If portraying the thoughts of more than one character, the narrator would be referred to as omniscient.) Aside from the one character that the narrator has insight into, other characters in the story can only be described on an external level, that is, portrayed via their actions or statements. In the story, Aunty Misery is the only character whose inner thoughts and feelings are known. Given that she is the main character, this is fairly fitting. Instances that portray Aunty Misery’s inner workings occur when the narrator notes that she ‘‘saw’’ that the pilgrim looked honest. Another example is when by ‘‘thinking fast’’ she comes up with a way to cheat Death. Aunty Misery is also shown as understanding the plight of others who depend on Death. It is additionally noted that she does not want to be ‘‘unfair’’ to them.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 29, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Published by Gale Group, 2001.