The fact that feminist criticism has had much more to say about Welty’s novels than about her short stories is the result of a particular bias of much feminist criticism no less than it is a result of a generic difference between the two forms. Because of historical tradition and the aesthetic conventions that adhere to short narrative, short stories are less likely to focus on characters defined by stereotypical social roles than they are to use archetypal metaphysical roles. The short story deals with situations that compel characters to confront their essential isolation as individuals, not as social masks within a particular cultural context. As a result, the women in Welty’s short stories do not so much confront their social roles as women as they reveal what Welty sees as their essential roles as isolated human beings. Such an approach, which eschews the social and the polemical and instead explores the symbolic and the metaphysical, does not lend itself to that brand of feminist criticism concerned with the wide range of social traps in which women find themselves.
For example, in “A Piece of News,” although Ruby Fisher is caught in a marriage in which she is most likely abused and which allows her no sense of herself as an independent social entity, this is not Welty’s concern. When Ruby sees a story in a newspaper describing how a woman named Ruby Fisher was shot in the leg by her husband, her recognition, “That’s me,” followed by her elaborate, self-pitying...
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