Summary

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Reviewed on March 16, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 316

The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty is a collection containing the short fiction of American author Eudora Welty. It won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1983.

Illustration of PDF document

Download The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Eudora Welty was a writer known for her complex portrayal of relationships and for writing on the importance of location. As a writer from the American south, specifically Mississippi, Welty conjured the history and geography of the American South in her writing. Many of Welty's stories grapple with the role of an individual—oftentimes more marginalized individuals such as women or people of color—within society. Two particularly well known stories by Welty are "A Worn Path" and "Why I Live at the P.O."

In "A Worn Path," the narrator describes the various obstacles an elderly black woman, Phoenix Jackson, must overcome in order to go to town and pick up medicine for her grandson. Phoenix faces challenges from nature and also from other humans, showing how entwined she is with her community and surroundings. Although Phoenix shows incredible love and kindness for her grandson, the novel also shows how difficult life is for rural black Americans.

"Why I Live at the P.O." is a short story that takes the form of a monologue. In it, the narrator, referred to as "Sister," explains what led her to leave her family and move all of her personal possessions into the local post office. In the process, Sister reveals many sources of conflict and family secrets. The story is humorous due to the strange logic that Sister and her family use to justify their actions, and also due to the diction, which contains many southern idioms and turns of phrase.

Both stories exemplify Eudora Welty's ability to capture characters who are both a part of their society and in conflict with it, as well as her ability to give voice to characters who might typically be silenced in society.

Summary

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 410

The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty contains forty-one stories—the distinguished Southern writer’s complete short fiction—in which, by focusing brilliantly on the Mississippi milieu she knew from her life experiences, Welty creates symbolic situations that transform the ordinary into the mythical. Although Welty’s stories do not often focus on realistic social situations that emphasize the external life of women in Southern society, they are filled with strong and independent women who memorably assert their unique identity.

Typical is Ruby Fisher in “A Piece of News,” who is trapped in a marriage that allows her no sense of herself as an independent person. When she sees a story in a newspaper describing how a woman named Ruby Fisher was shot in the leg by her husband, her elaborate fantasy of her own death and burial is an ironic effort to find a sense of identity. When her husband tells her that the newspaper is from another state, she feels a puzzling sense of loss.

In “Clytie,” the main character is a stereotyped old maid, exploited by her family and laughed at by the townspeople for her eccentricity. Just as Ruby Fisher sees herself in the newspaper story, Clytie achieves a similar recognition when she looks into the mirrored surface of a rain barrel and can think of nothing else to do but thrust her head into the “kind, featureless depth” of the water and hold it there. It is not simply social isolation that plagues Welty’s women, but also a primal sense of separateness. It is not mere social validation that they hunger for but a genuine healing love that will give them a sense of order and meaning.

Other memorable women in Welty’s stories caught in a quest for their own identity include Leota and Mrs. Fletcher who, Medusa-like in a beauty parlor in “Petrified Man,” metaphorically turn men into stone; Phoenix Jackson, the indefatigable grandmother who in “A Worn Path” goes on a heroic journey to seek relief for her suffering grandson; and Livie, in the story that bears her name, who dares to leave the control and order of the paternalistic Solomon for the vitality of Cash McCord.

Welty’s stories focus on women defined less by their stereotypical social roles than they are by their archetypal being. As a result, they do not so much confront their social self as they reveal what Welty sees as their nature as isolated human beings.

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-hour free trial
Next

Themes