A perfect example of a dysfunctional family can be found in “Why I Live at the P.O.” by Eudora Welty. In this kind of family, the individuals feel isolated even in the confines of the family. The story pits two sisters against each other: one is the favorite and the other the target child.
The setting of the story is the south in a small town. It is the Fourth of July. The story takes place in the home of the narrator’s family. The narration is first person point of view with the protagonist Sister serving as the narrator.
Sister faces a conflict of man versus himself. Her inability to resolve her inner turmoil about her sister creates problems for all of the members of the family.
Sister is the local post master for the next to the smallest post office in the state. Papa-Daddy got her the job. All of her life, Sister has considered herself a victim because she has always suffered at the hands of her sister. On the other hand, Sister has as many problems as the rest of the family. She cannot keep from pestering her family about Stella. Her actions are often childish and overdramatic.
Everything was going along fine until her sister Stella-Rondo returns home with an adopted child. Stella has separated from her husband. Now, Stella has come back home. The real negativity stems from Stella stealing her husband from Sister who was dating him.
It is Sister’s bitterness and resentment towards Stella that drives her to disturb whatever peace is present in the home. She is not able to overlook the past with her sister, especially what she sees as her sister’s theft of her boyfriend.
Lying and deception is a family trait. Rather than really communicate with each other, it has become easier to exaggerate and misinterpret family members’ intentions. These lies and misrepresentations happen in everyday communication. Distorting the truth takes the place of normal, sane discussions. This family embraces negativity, suspicions, and accusations.
Stella-Rondo finds the most difficulty in telling the truth. At every opportunity, she blames Sister for some imagined wrong. This causes each of the family members to grow more and more hostile. Uncle Rondo and Papa-Daddy grow hostile to Sister because of Stella-Rondo’s meddling.
And I tell you it didn’t take me any longer than a minute to make up my mind what to do. There I was with the whole entire house on Stella-Rondo’s and turned against me. If I have anything at all left, I have pride.
The narrator attacks Stella-Rondo and her daughter at every opportunity. She implies that Stella-Rondo was pregnant at the time of her marriage. It is her obsession with getting revenge on her sister that causes the crisis.
To Sister, it is obvious that the child really belongs to Stella because she looks like the family. Stella’s constant lying and manipulation of the facts make Sister doubt anything that Stella says. Although Sister blames everything on the return of Stella and her child, actually it is Sister’s self-pitying and her pettiness toward her that causes the problem.
When she moves out of the house, she goes to stay at the post office. Portraying herself as peaceful, her involvement in the family feud has not changed. She keeps track of which townspeople are on her side and which are not. Moving into the Post Office is just a temporary solution which does nothing to resolve her family problems.