The Ponder Heart

by Eudora Welty

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Uncle Daniel, who is rich as Croesus and correspondingly generous, is not very bright, but he looks impressive and neat as a pin. He invariably wears spotless white suits and a red bow tie and carries a huge Stetson hat just swept off his head. Kept under his father’s thumb until he was mature, he was for a long time unable to be as generous as his nature dictates. He gave Edna Earle the hotel she runs, but his father was glad to get rid of it. The cattle and fields he gave away were easily retrieved. People like Uncle Daniel because he is always giving something away, even if it is only small change, but he always feels alone.

After his father’s death, Uncle Daniel becomes Edna Earle’s responsibility. She feels fairly safe about his giving things away as long as he is unconcerned about money. His father had always given him an allowance of three dollars a week, and she continues the practice with no objection from Uncle Daniel because he is happy to have a little change in his pocket. His desire to give things to people makes a wonderful topic for Edna Earle to discuss with the traveling salesmen who stay in her hotel. Stories of Uncle Daniel involve the whole town and most of the surrounding countryside.

One day, Uncle Daniel escapes Edna Earle long enough to take a new salesgirl at the five-and-dime as his second bride. Edna Earle had been rather reticent about his first wife, who left him, though there seemed to be no rancor on either side. Since Uncle Daniel assures her that his second wife is just “on trial,” Edna Earle has to sit back and see what happens. Bonnie Dee Peacock Ponder holds Uncle Daniel enthralled for five years before she disappears. He always claims she looked good enough to eat and that she could cut his hair better than anyone had ever done before.

Edna Earle tells this story of the Ponder heart to prepare her listener, a traveling salesman guest in her hotel, for the change in Uncle Daniel since the salesman had last seen him. As she describes Uncle Daniel, his married life, and his most recent experiences, Edna Earle’s own situation becomes clear. The last respectable member of a disintegrating family, she is conscious of her dignity and jealous of the position she wishes for Uncle Daniel. She feels responsible for making things run, whether it be Uncle Daniel’s life or the rummage sale every week for the poor people in town. She wants things to run her way, however, and does not refrain from demanding her way with the servants, lawyers, shopkeepers, or even the judge. Though she deplores the fact that the town is no longer on a through route, she actually loves it. She despises the Peacock family, but she does her duty by them because Uncle Daniel married one of them. Edna Earle’s monologue covers the hunt for Bonnie Dee, Bonnie Dee’s return, her turning Uncle Daniel out of his own house, her wholesale purchase of useless things (like the washing machine she put on the front porch before the house was wired for electricity), her sudden death, and the trial of Uncle Daniel for her murder.

As a bribe to bring Bonnie Dee back home after she had disappeared, Edna Earle promised Uncle Daniel that Bonnie Dee would get an allowance. No one had thought to give her one during her five-year “trial” marriage. Uncle Daniel reacts slowly to the thought of money. Not until the day of the trial...

(This entire section contains 811 words.)

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does he think of the wealth he has in the bank. Apparently, it is a whim that day that prompts him to go to the bank early, when the only clerk there is someone who has never been warned not to give money to Uncle Daniel. He withdraws every cent he has, pads his pockets with the money, and goes to his trial.

Uncle Daniel’s murder trial brings together the whole town and all of Bonnie Dee’s huge family from the country. Edna Earle and the lawyer she has hired do not intend to let Uncle Daniel speak in his own defense. They rely too much on his previous obedience, however, and neglect to take into account the feelings he will naturally have at being, for once, the focal point in a big situation. Uncle Daniel listens carefully to all the witnesses and then, without warning, takes over the trial. Throwing money right and left, pressing bills upon all the people, he immediately convinces the jury of his innocence and even softens the hearts of Bonnie Dee’s family. Afterward, however, he is more alone than ever. People still do not understand him, and now he has nothing more to give them.