Style and Technique
The basic technique of “Keela, the Outcast Indian Maiden,” typical of Welty, is the imposition of a mythic framework on a seemingly realistic situation. Welty draws on her knowledge of ancient myth to create around Little Lee Roy an aura of archetypal significance. The first clue to this is the name Little Lee Roy, which (given the French words for “the king,” le roi) suggests “little king.” Moreover, because Lee Roy is clubfooted, he suggests the maimed king, a variation of the Fisher King of the Holy Grail story. As such, he fulfills the role of scapegoat described in anthropological studies of myth. Steve, as the outsider who comes into his kingdom to do something about the king’s injured condition, becomes the Quester of the myth. One primary task of the hero in the ancient myth is to ask the king the important question, “What aileth thee, mine uncle?” Steve’s failure to pose the liberating question to Little Lee Roy while he was in the freak show and his further failure to inquire of him now that he is back home in Cane Springs make Steve’s guilt the same as that of the Quester in the myth who fails to pity the king.
Welty’s creation of such a figure that embodies so many subtle aspects of the social scapegoat implicates the reader in Steve’s guilt for letting it go on and on and not being found out. It is not only the concrete image of a disguised little black man biting chickens’ heads off in a carnival sideshow that horrifies the reader, but rather the realization that he or she has always paid his money to see such things and then tried to deny their reality. The story’s impact cannot be attributed solely to the physical horror it depicts, although that indeed is shocking enough. Like any good short story, “Keela, the Outcast Indian Maiden” presents a moral dilemma that has the power to involve the reader directly, but that does so through the symbolic power of the language of the story itself.