(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Eudora Welty shows in this book that she is perhaps the quietest and subtlest feminist of the twentieth century. Hardly anyone would suspect that a feminist subtext underlies this novel; in 1946 such plots were uncommon. Yet the book is decidedly unconventional from the beginning: It identifies no conflicts, posits no problems. No dominant male figure appears until the novel is well advanced, and when he does, he has lost control of the situation. Not that the novel denies the reality of male dominance. In fact, it asserts it; as often as not, male characters act in complete disregard of their female counterparts. The novel shows, however, that this is not the only, or even the determinant, sphere of relevance.

This appears in the central event of the novel, the wedding of Dabney and Troy Flavin. From the beginning it is clear that Dabney is flouting family protocol by giving herself to a mere overseer. Her father feels betrayed by Troy, who apparently insinuated his way into the house in order to subvert the family. Shelley believes that her sister is disgracing herself and defying her father. Yet Dabney sees in Troy what the family sees in George: character worth passionate attraction. Finally, on the eve of the wedding Shelley goes to the office to summon Troy to the rehearsal. There she stumbles into a knife fight between two field hands, which is broken up by Troy. At that moment Shelley recognizes the kind of mastery she had earlier noted in George. She no longer objects to the wedding.

A similar resolution occurs in the inset story detailing the separation of Robbie and George. Shortly after George informs Ellen of Robbie’s flight, she meets a mysterious girl in the forest. When she returns, George tells her that he had met the girl the day before and had slept with her. Ellen makes no comment about this, apparently accepting it as part of the male prerogative, something women simply have to accept. Shelley, moreover, knows all the time where Robbie is hiding, but she refuses to tell George, because like everyone else in the family...

(The entire section is 843 words.)