The Robber Bridegroom Essay - Critical Essays

Eudora Welty

Critical Context

Eudora Welty is better known for her short stories than for her novels, and in this, her first novel, one can appreciate her familiarity with the folktale and fairy-tale conventions that contribute to her own work and to the short-story form in general. When The Robber Bridegroom first appeared, many critics admired it for its clever satire and for its pure and sustained and ironic style, but few saw it to be a serious work of fiction with an important theme. Several reviewers thought that it was a tour de force of technique likely to be appreciated by admirers of Welty’s short fiction, but to be of little interest to the general reader. Later, however, critics took the story more seriously, exploring its sources in folklore and works of American humor and probing its cultural and metaphysical themes.

Most of Welty’s works, both novels and stories, are mythic and fantastic to some degree, although perhaps none is so deeply imbued with fairy-tale conventions as is The Robber Bridegroom. Welty is more concerned with what she has called “the season of dreams” than she is with the world of external reality. Thus, her stories are seldom realistic, although she invariably sets them in recognizable places and inhabits them with characters who, although often grotesque, possess human qualities that are easily recognizable.

Welty’s best-known stories, many of which are anthologized in short-story textbooks, are from A Curtain of Green (1941), The Wide Net and Other Stories (1943), and The Golden Apples (1949). All are characterized by her fascination with myth and legend and her blending of the characters and events of archetypal stories with ordinary people of the American South. Eudora Welty is, without doubt, one of the greatest American short-story writers in the twentieth century, and The Robber Bridegroom, drawing on her intimate familiarity with folklore, myth, and fairy tale, is a compendium of the sources of her art.