Explain the character of Sister in "Why I Live in the P.O." by Eudora Welty.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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A funny story written in southern style—“Why I Live at the P. O.” by Eudora Welty takes place in China Grove, Mississippi, a very small town.  Welty’s story concerns a dysfunctional family that squabbles and over reacts to everything.  With eccentric characters and an unusual plot, the story follows the return of the prodigal daughter, who comes home but not alone. 

Sister, the oldest daughter in the family, narrates the story. She is an unreliable speaker because she is unhappy about her younger sister coming back home with her “adopted” daughter. As narrator, Sister’s judgment is clouded. 

Life was going well for Sister until her spiteful sister Stella-Rondo comes home after the collapse of her marriage. 

‘I was getting along find with Mama, Papa-Daddy, and Uncle Rondo until my sister Stella-Rondo came back home again.  Of course, I went with Mr. Whitaker first, when he first appeared here in China Grove, and Stella-Rondo broke us up. Told him I was one-sided.”

The stealing of the boyfriend was the icing on the cake for Sister.  After a lifetime of fussing with her sibling, Sister has had it. Apparently, Stella has always been the favored child. From her marriage, Stella tells the tale of her husband bringing home a little girl, Shirley-T.  Now, Stella brings the little girl home with her.

Sister is exactly one year older than Stella-Rondo. Sister is frank and outspoken; on the other hand, she can be petty and bitter. Her jealousy often gets the best of her, which clouds her view of the world.  The aspects of her personality are just as caustic as are her sibling.

Lying and distorting the truth are the means of communication for every member of the family.  Rather than actually conversing with other members of the family, they prefer to lie, exaggerate, and misconstrue the opinions within the family. This happens every day.  Nothing special has to happen in order for someone to twist the truth.  To further the problems within the family, they habitually embrace negativity, suspicion, and accusation. 

To Sister, everyone else is crazy and deceitful, and she takes no responsibility for her part of aggravating her relatives.  She pesters Stella-Rondo about her adopted daughter. In order to justify her own behavior, Sister recounts all the injustices that have been done to her.  Addressing the audience directly, she accuses Stella of ruining her relationships with all of the other members of the family. Sister watches as Stella-Rondo gains sympathy and understanding from the rest of the family.

Papa-Daddy helped Sister earn the job of Post Mistress for her town.  After Stella takes charge and manipulates the rest of the family, Sister moves into the post office to get away from the family. She essentially means to divorce herself from all of them.

The post office represents independence for Sister.  It is an escape and a haven away from her family. Even after moving into the post office, her involvement with her family does not end.  She still keeps up with what is happening at home. Without the fighting in her family, she has nothing to criticize.   

If Sister were honest with herself, she has alienated every member of the family.  All of the situations may have been caused by Stella; however, Sister does not help herself.  She follows the manipulation of her sister and increases the problems.  Her bitterness and jealousy force her treat even the little child negatively.  Sister should have known better. 


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