Delta Wedding Summary
Delta Wedding begins with the arrival of nine-year-old Laura McRaven at the Shellmound estate in Mississippi. An only child, she welcomes being with the large Fairchild family as their seventeen-year-old daughter Dabney is about to get married. At the same time, Laura is overwhelmed by their close-knit, large family headed by her uncle, Battle, and her aunt, Ellen, and their eight children.
The plot involves preparations for the coming wedding, in which Dabney will marry Troy Flavin, the plantation overseer who is twice her age and who comes from a family of lower status. Nonetheless, the family comes to accept him and embrace him. At the same time, Laura also becomes part of the family. At the beginning of the story, she makes a cake with her aunt, Ellen, symbolizing the way in which Laura is becoming enfolded into the family. Much of the book is dedicated to a detailed description of the way of life at Shellmound, portrayed in exquisite, slow-moving detail—meant to capture the timelessness of the Fairchild way of life in their slow-moving town.
At the same time, Uncle George, dedicated to his family, has fought with his wife, Robbie, because of a recent incident in which he tried to rescue his disabled niece, Maureen, from a train track and was nearly run over. At the last minute, the train stopped, but his wife feels that he puts his family before her. At the end, she is reconciled to the importance of the family. Laura also becomes part of the family, as she takes part in the wedding when a child who is supposed to be part of the wedding takes sick. She is both part of the family and part of the contingent that will eventually leave at the end of the wedding. At the end of the book, though Dabney is married, the family's life continues as Dabney settles at Marmion, a nearby house owned by the Fairfields, and Laura knows that she has a place with the family.
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 inferior to the Fairchilds, should feel totally rejected. However, he does not. The Fairchilds have come to appreciate his virtues, his diligence, his love of the land, and his understanding of Dabney’s need to remain near her roots.
In contrast, Robbie Reid Fairchild is jealous of the family...
(The entire section is 2,215 words.)