The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty

by Eudora Welty

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Eudora Welty's Collected Stories includes forty-one pieces, almost of them previously published in other collections of Welty's work; altogether, the book spans years of Welty’s writing career. Many of the stories have women protagonists, some of whom are alienated from their relationships and living situations. Only rarely do they take steps to change those situations.

In “A Piece of News,” previously published in A Curtain of Green, a woman named Ruby Fisher reads a story in a newspaper about a woman named Ruby Fisher who had been shot in the leg by her husband. Although this is obviously a different person, the flash of recognition is enough to prompt her to feel angry toward her husband as well as vaguely uneasy about something she cannot quite pinpoint, “an untouched mystery.” The third-person narrator describes Ruby’s personality as both passive and not passive, touched with restlessness:

Her anger passed like a remote flare of elation. Neatly avoiding the table where the bag of coffee stood, she began to walk nervously about the room, as if a teasing indecision, an untouched mystery, led her by the hand. There was one window, and she paused now and then, waiting, looking out at the rain. When she was still, there was a passivity about her, or a deception of passivity, that was not really passive at all. There was something in her that never stopped.

One of Welty’s most well-known stories is “A Worn Path,” in which an elderly African American woman makes a long journey into town; only at the end do we learn that her purpose is to obtain medicine for her grandson. Phoenix Jackson is poor but determined; she has no car and walks almost everywhere. Her clothes and accessories reflect her poverty, as the cane she carries was made from an umbrella, and the apron she wears over her dress was pieced together from sugar sacks. Welty describes the terrain she traverses and the conversations she carries on with animals, whether present or not, and a scarecrow she encounters in an empty field. Although she is determined to reach her destination, her mind sometimes plays tricks on her:

[S]he sat down to rest. he spread her skirts on the bank around her and folded her hands over her knees. Up above her was a tree in a pearly cloud of mistletoe. She did not dare to close her eyes, and when a little boy brought her a plate with a slice of marble-cake on it she spoke to him. “That would be acceptable,” she said. But when she went to take it there was just her own hand in the air.

In “The Wide Net,” a girl named Josie, her siblings, and her parents stay secure inside their house as a fierce, equinoctial storm rages outside. Although Josie is determined to stay awake and remember everything about that night, she drifts off to sleep. In her dreams, all the events of the summer swim before her, as her games take on the concrete form of real events. Welty, however, does not present her experience in those terms; rather, she refrains from telling the reader that the girl is dreaming and presents the events in Josie’s dream as if they are happening in the living world. After several paragraphs of these descriptions, Josie’s father’s comment brings readers back to mundane reality:

All that she ran after in the whole summer world came to life in departure before Josie’s eyes and covered her vision with wings. It kept her from eating her dinner to think of all that she had caught or meant to catch before the time was gone—June-bugs in the banana plants to fly before breakfast on a thread, lightning-bugs that left a bitter odor in the palms of the hands, butterflies with their fierce and haughty faces, bees in a jar. A great tempest of droning and flying seemed to have surrounded her as she ran, and she seemed not to have moved without putting her hand out after something that flew ahead. . . .

“There! I thought you were asleep,” said her father.

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