The Optimist's Daughter Essay - Critical Evaluation

Eudora Welty

Critical Evaluation

Eudora Welty, a literary icon of the twentieth century, had been a lifelong resident of Jackson, Mississippi. One of her many honors was bestowed May 2, 1973, when the state of Mississippi celebrated Eudora Welty Day during the Annual Mississippi Arts Festival in Jackson. Welty devoted her life to her art, publishing not only fiction but also photographs, essays, criticism, and reviews. Novelist Reynolds Price, in his foreword to The Late Novels of Eudora Welty (1998), noted that Welty had “fertilized and encouraged a whole new generation of Southern-born novelists.” She received the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1973 for The Optimist’s Daughter.

Set in the American South, The Optimist’s Daughter confronts perennial questions about everyday life, such as family relations, the nature of time and of love, and the function of memory in helping the individual deal with mortality. These are also preoccupations of her autobiographical book, One Writer’s Beginnings (1984), suggesting that Welty’s themes, not her plots, are drawn from her life experiences. Throughout her career, Welty effectively reshaped experience into fiction.

Welty’s narrative method in The Optimist’s Daughter works perfectly to reveal her themes and her suggestion of Laurel’s growth. An outside voice tells the story but always from the stance of Laurel, the protagonist. The reader only has access to what Laurel can see or feel or know, and Welty only slowly reveals Laurel’s inner life. Readers get early intimations of conflicts, for example, some unexpressed issue surrounding her mother’s death, but likely remain confused because the conflict is not clear....

(The entire section is 699 words.)