Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The basic theme of the story is suggested by the obvious irony of the title, for Marian’s visit is not one of true charity, but rather a formal, institutionalized gesture. It certainly does not represent the biblical notion of charity in 1 Corinthians, which is interpreted in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible as “love,” or sympathetic identification of one person with another. From the beginning of the story, Marian does not think of the two old women as people like herself. She not only is aware of the strangeness of the old ladies, but she also has become a stranger to herself. Thrown out of her familiar world, where she belongs, she is in a grotesque dreamworld, where she intensely feels her difference from the old ladies and thus her own separation and isolation. This symbolic sense of alienation explains the strange, dreamlike effect of the nursing home on Marian.

If the story were concerned only with Marian’s difficulty in identifying with the old women, it would be easier to dismiss, for one might legitimately ask how it is possible for a girl to feel empathy for these strange and grotesque old women. Thus, to show that the feeling of charity, in the New Testament sense of “love,” is totally lacking in the story, Eudora Welty establishes the relationship between the two old women. Why do they not love each other? It should be easy for them to perceive their common identity and thus maintain a sense of unity instead of one of...

(The entire section is 505 words.)