Themes and Meanings
In her fiction, Eudora Welty rarely takes a political stance or comments directly on her society, but in this departure from her often warm and affectionate examination of life in the American South, she plunges directly into the harsher reality of the civil rights era and the tumultuous shift in the social structure of her native region. The complexity of the problem and the ongoing effects of this shift become a major theme of “Where Is the Voice Coming From?” as African American citizens demand equal treatment and those at the bottom of white society fear their own displacement.
The white speaker is dangerous in his frustration. He comes from the lowest economic stratum, with no indication that he is employed, although his wife does hold a job. Apparently he does not own a car because he has to borrow a truck. Although he is outraged by the small black schoolchildren who have previously demonstrated for civil rights, much of his anger seems personal, directed especially at the vocal and visible leader, Roland Summers. Envy chokes him: Summers’s picture is in the paper, his street is paved, his grass is green and well watered, and his wife leaves a welcoming light on for him. (The narrator’s own wife could not afford to pay for such things.) Roland Summers personifies for the white narrator the injustice of a system that has failed to respect him as a man and now threatens to place ahead of him others who he believes are less deserving. He refuses to yield to a group that he has been taught to regard as inferior.
The narrator also thinks, correctly, that even his wife belittles him, not giving him full credit for what he has accomplished by ridding the town of an unwelcome agitator. She assumes that he got the idea from the newspaper columnist, when actually he thought of it himself. Even though he recognizes that his status is low—lower even than that of his sarcastic wife—the narrator needs to believe that he is still better than a man such as Roland Summers. His whole history, his identity, is at risk, threatened by this social upheaval, and he cannot submit quietly.