Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Delta Wedding discloses its subject in its title: It is a re-creation of a plantation family wedding in the Mississippi Delta in 1923. As such, it celebrates a mostly lost way of living in and interrelating within a complex society and family. The novel is unusual in both focus and structure. Sidestepping the usual fictional progression from definition of conflict to resolution, it instead brings to life a pivotal event in the life of a family, showing how this changes both individuals and group. By making the entire family central, it alters the customary frame of reference in fiction. Its focus is quite different from the common view of a male hero demonstrating his character by taking resolute action. In this work, even though the social context is the dominant-male model typical of the Deep South, the strong lines of force emanate from the women—most emphatically, sometimes, at the very moment of making a man the apparent center of their lives.

The novel opens and closes with Laura McRaven, beginning with her motherless condition and ending with her invitation to join the Fairchild family. Otherwise, however, she plays little part in the major events of the story; although she is present for most of them, she remains on the sidelines. Overtly, there seems little reason for her inclusion. Yet that is the point. She is there because she is part of the family; this family is mostly about inclusiveness. The pattern plays itself out in several...

(The entire section is 485 words.)

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Mississippi Delta

*Mississippi Delta. Broad alluvial plain bordering the Mississippi River, stretching on the Mississippi side from Memphis in the north nearly to Vicksburg in the south. A delta is any land built up from the mud and sand deposited by a river; however, in Delta Wedding the term defines a culture as well. Life in the Delta is different from life in Ellen Fairchild’s native Virginia, different from life in Troy Flavin’s Mississippi hill-country to the east, different from life in Laura’s nearby Jackson.


Shellmound. Name of both the cotton plantation owned by the Delta Fairchilds and the sprawling plantation home that is the center of communal life for dispersed Fairchilds, such as George and Laura, as well as for Shellmound residents. The plantation is so large that little Laura repeatedly asks, “Is this still Shellmound?” Its fields have names, like Mound Field (with the remains of Indian mounds), East Field, Far Field, the Deadening (where the first Fairchilds to settle the land cleared away the trees). The house at Shellmound is home to Battle and Ellen’s ever-growing brood, a house of numberless rooms sufficient to shelter Battle and Ellen’s nine, along with young dependents like the handicapped Maureen and the motherless Laura and old dependents like Battle’s eccentric Aunt Mac and mad Aunt Shannon.


Marmion. Empty since its completion in 1890, Marmion lies beyond the bustling life of Shellmound literally and figuratively. Although near Shellmound in distance, it is physically removed because it is on the far side of the Yazoo River, so that one must follow the river to the bridge at the town of Fairchilds in order to reach it. It is part of the Fairchilds’ family mythology, the house built by Battle’s father just...

(The entire section is 760 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Eudora Welty has remained aloof from the women’s movement throughout her career, even when she has been invited to join. She is about as far from an advocate, let alone a feminist, as it seems possible for a writer to be. Yet for all that, her fiction is profoundly affected by her gender, and the consciousness inherent in her work is decidedly feminine.

This feminine perspective is so prevalent in Delta Wedding that its publication in 1946, when the male prerogative prevailed in the book business, still seems surprising. The book is overtly unconventional, if hardly subversive. Its success probably lies in its subtlety, if not in its peculiar variety of feminism, which is covert and undemonstrative. That is, the thrust of the book certainly affirms the value, even the priority, of the female perception and experience, but it does this without diminishing or rejecting the male. Welty’s women like and appreciate males, accept them without prejudice, even sometimes grant them their belief in their own superiority without believing it themselves. There is room in their universe for divergent—even opposed, even wrong—views, but the female view endures.

This is apparent in several ways and in most of the plot elements in the novel. The separation-reconciliation of George and Robbie, for example, illustrates it. Robbie’s anger is justified: George had let her trail along after the family, hobbled by the high heels she wears to mark her difference from them, and he fails to see to her—or his own—safety before attending to the needs of his family. She is complaining about his indifference and lack of acceptance or reassurance, his continuing to put his family first when he has contracted new obligations. At the same time he is right to try to rescue Maureen, who cannot help herself, and his magnificent disdain for danger is part of his character, part of what she must accept about him. Yet this difference in perception could not be resolved without the intervention of the wedding. The wedding brings to the fore Troy’s misgivings about being a foreigner in the family, thereby making him sensitive to Robbie’s plight, and it allows Shelley and Dabney to recognize the validity of her anxieties. Similar adjustments are experienced by all the major female characters and a select few of the males.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Carson, Barbara Harrell. Eudora Welty: Two Pictures at Once in Her Frame. Troy, N.Y.: Whitson, 1992. Though intended for academics, Carson’s work is clearly written and generally accessible. One chapter is devoted expressly to Delta Wedding, and the introduction sets forth her thesis that Welty’s fiction includes opposed perspectives without reconciling them. Contains an extensive bibliography and index.

Devlin, Albert J. Eudora Welty’s Chronicle: A Story of Mississippi Life. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1983. Devlin approaches Welty’s work primarily from formal literary perspectives and as a fictional re-creation of Southern life. Still, his chapter on Delta Wedding contains important insights. Includes notes and index but no bibliography.

Evans, Elizabeth. Eudora Welty. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1981. Though somewhat dated, this remains the best one-volume introduction to Welty’s life and writings, with good general comments about both. Contains notes, bibliography, index, and a solid chronology.

Kreyling, Michael. Eudora Welty’s Achievement of Order. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980. One of the best book-length studies of Welty. Focuses on the development of Welty’s fictional technique and growth of her esthetic sensibility and unique...

(The entire section is 499 words.)