(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Delta Wedding is a study of the relationships among the individual members of the Fairchild family and between that family and the rest of the world. The setting for the story is Shellmound, the Mississippi plantation that is the home of Battle Fairchild; his wife, Ellen Fairchild; and their eight children, as well as of various female relatives and black servants. Shellmound is not merely a backdrop; it is the center of family life. The sound of Shellmound is the sound of conversation; this is a place where people gather to talk. The conversations at Shellmound may appear to be superficial, examples of the southerners’ need to fill every silence, yet they serve important purposes. They enable family members to explore their own feelings and to understand those of others, to connect living people with those who are dead, and to comprehend the events taking place in the present by recalling similar occasions in the past.

It is therefore not mere provinciality or possessiveness that causes the Fairchilds to consider it a tragedy when one of them moves away from that sustaining influence. They mention the young woman who married a northerner and moved far away from them; obviously, she understood what she had left behind, because she returns to her parents’ home to have her babies.

To its credit, the Fairchild family is willing to change, to open its ranks to those who would once have been considered outsiders. The wedding for which they are gathering is an example of the family’s flexibility, for they will be celebrating the marriage of Battle’s daughter, seventeen-year-old Dabney Fairchild, to the plantation overseer, Troy Flavin, an outsider from the hill country. If the Virginian Ellen Fairchild is still somewhat ill at ease in the family, Troy, who is socially and culturally...

(The entire section is 744 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Nine-year-old Laura McRaven makes her first journey alone from Jackson to the Delta to visit her dead mother’s people, the Fairchilds. One of her cousins, Dabney Fairchild, is to be married, and Laura’s chief regret is that she cannot be in the wedding party because of her mother’s recent death. She remembers Shellmound, the Fairchild plantation, and knows that she will have a wonderful time with her exciting cousins and aunts. The Fairchilds are people to whom things happen, exciting, unforgettable things.

At Shellmound, Laura finds most of the family assembled for the wedding. Although children her age are her companions, she is also aware of the doings of the grownups. It is obvious that the family is not happy about Dabney’s marriage. Her husband-to-be is Troy Flavin, the manager of the plantation, whose inferior social position is the main mark against him. Uncle Battle, Dabney’s father, is most of all reluctant to let one of his family go from him, but he cannot bring himself to say anything to Dabney, not even that he will miss her. Laura finds this behavior to be very strange. They seldom talk as a united family, but they always act as one. There are so many members of the family that it is hard for Laura to keep them straight. Uncle Battle’s wife is Aunt Ellen, and their oldest daughter is Shelley, who is going to be a nun. Again the whole family disapproves of her plan, but there is seldom any attempt to get her to change her mind. The obvious favorite is Uncle George, Battle’s brother. Uncle George also married beneath him. He and his wife, Robbie, live in Memphis, where everyone knows poor Uncle George can never be happy.

When George arrives for the wedding festivities, he is alone and miserable. Robbie left him, and he came down alone to see his family. Not wanting to make Dabney unhappy, they do not tell her of Robbie’s desertion. The children and the aunts and grand-aunts are not told either, although one by one they begin to suspect that something is wrong. Ellen could kill Robbie for making George unhappy, but she keeps her feelings to herself except when she is alone with Battle, her husband.

Robbie’s anger at her husband began on the afternoon of a family outing. George risked his life to save one of the cousins, a feebleminded child caught in the path of a train as they crossed a railroad trestle. After that incident, Robbie was never the same with George. She seemed to want him to prove that he loves her more than he loves his family.

Probably Shelley understands the family best. She knows that they built a wall against the outside world, but she suspects that they are more lonely than self-sufficient. Most people take the family as a group, loving or hating them all together. Only Uncle George...

(The entire section is 1136 words.)