Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Clay. Small county-seat town fifty miles north of Jackson in Mississippi that has at its heart that requisite of all southern towns, the courthouse square. Across the street is the Beulah Hotel, which only fills when court convenes and brings the town to life. Next door is the movie theater, with offices on the second floor for Ponder family friend, Judge Tip Clanahan. The Presbyterian church, spiritual home to the town’s elite, faces the more bourgeois Baptist church. Nearby are the post office and the ten-cent store where Uncle Daniel finds his child bride, Bonnie Dee Peacock.

Beulah Hotel

Beulah Hotel. Of a type that once graced the center of nearly every southern town, hotel boasting twelve bedrooms, two baths, two staircases, five porches, a lobby, a dining room, and a kitchen with a pantry. The once-bustling Beulah now hosts only the occasional overnight guest: Mr. Springer, the traveling drug salesman who comes and goes with the seasons, and the unnamed hearer of Edna Earle’s tale. When court is in session, though, the Beulah’s table feeds everyone from judge to defendant. It is the Beulah to which Uncle Daniel comes for companionship during and after his stormy marriage to Bonnie Dee.

Ponder Hill

Ponder Hill. Home of the Ponder family. In contrast to the Beulah at the heart of Clay, the Ponders’ home is isolated and empty. It sits three miles out of town in woods full of hoot owls, bordered by fields worked by tenant farmers. When Daniel’s father, Mr. Sam, built Ponder Hill, he tried to outdo the hotel owned by his bride’s parents. He built on a high hill a house as big as the Beulah itself, loaded with trim and brightly painted, its rooms stuffed with furniture and its roof overloaded with lightning rods. Over the years, however, death has emptied Ponder Hill, until only Daniel and the old cook Narciss remain. It is to Ponder Hill that Daniel takes both the wife of his short-lived first marriage, the widow Miss Teacake Magee,...

(The entire section is 830 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Narrative point of view is the most important technical aspect of the novel. Edna Earle is the teller, and an unidentified guest at the...

(The entire section is 171 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Ponder Heart is a comical story, portraying the conflicts between the socially established (and hence "elite") in a small southern...

(The entire section is 251 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The humorous tradition that informs The Ponder Heart may be said to derive from Laurence Sterne's eighteenth-century novel Tristram...

(The entire section is 106 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In Delta Wedding (1946), Welty also depicts a family of rural "aristocrats" on the decline, gentry who gradually lose out to...

(The entire section is 98 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Ponder Heart was made into a stage play in 1956, but it was greatly changed. It treated the novel's events chronologically and...

(The entire section is 52 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Appel, Alfred, Jr. A Season of Dreams: The Fiction of Eudora Welty. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1965. Focuses on Edna Earl’s role and comments on the illusory nature of reality in the novel. Points out that Uncle Daniel, like many of Welty’s tragic characters, is left isolated by the end of the narrative.

Carson, Barbara Harrell. “In the Heart of Clay: Eudora Welty’s The Ponder Heart.” American Literature 59 (December, 1987): 609-625. Excellent study of Edna Earl as a “dynamic balancer of reason and feeling,” both essential to human nature. Sees Uncle Daniel as an irrational man of feeling too much out of touch with reality to be capable of genuine love.

Cornell, Brenda G. “Ambiguous Necessity: A Study of The Ponder Heart.” In Eudora Welty: Critical Essays, edited by Peggy Whitman Prenshaw. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1979. Examines the shortcomings of the stage version of the novella, particularly with respect to the presentation of Edna Earl. Welty’s use of irony and paradox help sustain the premise that life is full of mystery.

Idol, John L., Jr. “Edna Earl Ponder’s Good Country People.” In The Critical Response to Eudora Welty’s Fiction, edited by Laurie Champion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Comments on the conflict set up in the novel between town and country, with Edna Earl representing the town. Includes a review of the novel and notes differences with the 1956 Broadway stage version.

Kreyling, Michael. Eudora Welty’s Achievement of Order. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980. Includes a chapter that focuses on the “adjoining terror” that connects The Ponder Heart with serious comedy. Sees Edna Earl as Apollonian in her concern for knowledge and order, while Uncle Daniel is Dionysian in his spontaneity.