‘The New Order’ by Nancy Hale

Hale, Nancy 1954

The New Order by Nancy Hale, 1954

The magic trick:

Telling the story from the perspective of the older woman, until switching points of view at the very end

This story plays like a sad, comic comment on the older generation’s inability to adjust to society’s changing ways. Mrs. Shackelford makes evident how uneasy she is about those changes as she talks incessantly from her hospital bed about how much she embraces the new ways things are done. Of course, the reader thinks, she is fooling herself. And that appears to be the gist of the story. Which would have been fine. And then Hale employs that famous Jamesian turn of the screw.

In the final paragraphs, the story’s narration shines a light on the nurse, Miss Wickes, who has been listening to Mrs. Shackelford’s talk this whole time. Suddenly, we see that this story isn’t so much about the older generation’s inability to adjust to change as much as it is about the change itself. Miss Wickes, a black woman, still feels invisible, still feels powerless. The twist takes this story from the realm of gentle humor to timely social commentary. Published in 1954, “The New Order” demonstrates just how far that new order still had to go. One can only imagine what Mrs. Shackelford would make of the new order of 1964 or 1974 or 2015. Thought-provoking stuff. And that’s quite a trick on Hale’s part.

The selection:

The door of the hospital room opened abruptly, and Miss Bruce, who was in charge of the corridor, burst in. She was young; dazzlingly blond; with a look of a cross child carrying responsibility.

“Why aren’t you up?” she demanded, viewing the patient with disfavor. “Miss Wickes, you know Dr. Calhoun said the patient was to sit up this morning for a little bit. What are you doing making her bed with her in it?”

Miss Wickes said nothing.

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