“Petrified Man” basically consists of two sets of conversations between Leota and Mrs. Fletcher; the story’s “action” takes place wholly in these conversations. In small-town America, much of what constitutes “real life” consists of the images created by conversationalists such as Leota and Mrs. Fletcher, and the dialogue between these two characters is thus a perfect device for capturing the banality and pretentiousness of much human encounter.
Welty was a master at depicting in fine detail the life of the small southern town, and “Petrified Man” bears the verisimilitude that has earned for her this reputation. She effectively employs the visual, tactile, and olfactory images that place the reader in the beauty parlor with Leota and company. Though the reader never directly confronts the Pikes, Leota’s husband Fred, or Mr. Petrie, Leota’s vivid descriptions serve well enough as surrogates. Despite her own posturing, Leota’s dialogue cannot help but reveal the truth about herself and others, and this is a tribute to Welty’s skillful use of the style and substance of the small-town southern experience in the story’s extended conversations.