Either there’s not a lot of metaphor in this plain-talking novel or I’m missing it, but Agee does have some wonderful subtleties in here that I’m connecting as I am close to finishing this story.
As Mary sits with family after finding out the news of her husband’s death, her mother and father arrive and her father asks to speak with her privately. They go into a bedroom and close the door.
He came over to her and took her hand and looked at her searchingly. Why he’s just my height, she realized again. She saw how much his eyes, in sympathy and pain, were like his sisters, tired, tender and resolute beneath the tired, frail eyelids. (p. 118)
There is a closeness here, brought about by the tragedy, that brings them on the same level and beyond past estrangement that had occurred as a result of her choice of husband. Even as Mary knows that she’d gone against her father’s wishes to have married Jay, there is this solid ground on which they meet as equals rather than adversaries.
And later, after the service, Rufus sees his mother once again approach her father:
And there was Grandpa and Grandma and Uncle Andrew and Aunt Amelia and Aunt Hannah; and Grandma got up quickly and took their mother in her arms and patted her several times emphatically across the shoulders, and Grandpa stood up too; and while Grandma stooped and embraced and kissed each of the children, saying, "Darlings, darlings," in a somewhat loud and ill-controlled voice, they could see their grandfather’s graceful and cynical head as he embraced their mother, and realized that he was not quite as tall as she was; and their Aunt Amelia stood up shyly with her elbows out. (p. 241)
After all the pain of the days following Jay’s death, Mary seems to have acquired the strength and focus to rise above it and the determination to carry on with life armed by her faith and her children. Even so, Mary’s height as she grows with experience may not be the only meaning here; her father, filled with pain for the suffering of his daughter, may as easily be shrinking away from a once-firm foothold in life.
Or, I may just be reading all this into it.