Eudora Welty by Various

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Eudora Welty American Literature Analysis

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In The Eye of the Story, there is an essay called “Reality in Chekhov’s Stories,” which explains as much about Eudora Welty as it does about Anton Chekhov. Welty comments that one of Chekhov’s most important contributions to fiction was his redefining of reality. Before Chekhov, there was one viewpoint in fiction, directly or obliquely the author’s; after Chekhov, the writer felt free and even compelled to present various viewpoints as versions of reality. This approach necessitates a determined detachment on the part of the fiction writer. As Welty frequently explained, she does not consciously manipulate her characters; instead, she creates them and lets them speak for themselves. As a result, her short stories and novels often have the quality of a stage play.

In “A Visit of Charity,” for example, Welty begins with a brief mention of the time of day; she proceeds to describe the appearance of a young girl and to give the directions for her coming onstage—in this case, into the Old Ladies’ Home. Although the point of view of this story is that of fourteen-year-old Marian, who notices everything, even the smell of the room that she has chosen to enter, the minute the two old women begin to talk, there are two additional versions of reality. The old women do not agree about anything. One says that another girl has visited them, and the other says she did not; one says that her roommate is sick, and the roommate denies it; one begins to speak of her school days, and the other interrupts with a tirade to the effect that the first speaker had no life whatsoever before she came to the home to torture her roommate.

With all the controversy going on, it is no wonder that the girl herself feels as if she is in a dream; in other words, her own view of reality becomes shaky. In the final scene, after escaping from the Old Ladies’ Home, Marian bites into an apple. The implication is clear: She is returning to the single and simple reality of her own appetite.

Welty’s dramatic structure, then, is her way of stressing a major theme: that each character is living in a unique world. Furthermore, although Marian shuts out the past and the future by focusing on her apple, most characters live in memory and in anticipation as well as in observation of the present. In One Writer’s Beginnings, Welty explains her idea of the basic pattern of life. Everyone is involved, she says, in a continual process, moving from memories of the past to discoveries about the present and then again back to memories. There are, however, occasions when the memories and discoveries converge in a single moment, annihilating the conventional divisions between past and present, the living and the dead. Welty calls these times “confluences.”

In Welty’s fiction, the confluences are usually both healing and strengthening, at least for the characters who pay attention to them, such as the naturalist James Audubon in “A Still Moment” and Phoebe in “Asphodel,” who finds in the retelling of an old love story, an appearance of a naked hermit, and an attack by hungry goats the occasion for joy. The theme of confluence is reflected in the final sentence of the story, as Phoebe’s reaction is described:She seemed to be still in a tender dream and an unconscious celebration—as though the picnic were not already set rudely in the past, but were the enduring and intoxicating present. still the phenomenon. the golden day.

Even though Welty emphasizes the uniqueness of each individual’s perception, she does not therefore assume that there can be no connections between people. Indeed, most of her stories and all of her novels stress the need for acceptance, for tolerance, for a sustaining community. Welty often chooses a ceremonial gathering as the setting for a story or a novel. The title of Delta Wedding suggests that occasion; Losing Battles takes place at a birthday celebration; The Optimist’s Daughter involves a deathbed vigil and a funeral. Even the...

(The entire section is 5,589 words.)