Powerhouse Summary
by Eudora Welty

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Powerhouse Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Eudora Welty is known for her compelling characters, and the protagonist in this story, Powerhouse, is certainly one of her most striking creations. A famous black musician, Powerhouse is appropriately named, for his outstanding characteristic is the creative power of his imagination. This creative power is portrayed over the course of one evening in a small town in Mississippi, during the late 1930’s, when the Jim Crow laws of segregation were in effect, as the band plays for a “white dance”—a dance that only white people may attend.

At the opening of the story, the narrator, an unnamed white member of the community, begins with a lyrical celebration of Powerhouse on the night of the performance. The narrator sees the musician as someone who is “marvelous, frightening,” someone who is capable of casting everyone in the audience “into oblivion” with his performance. Powerhouse is like a magician with his band. From his first note—which “marks the end of any known discipline”—onward, Powerhouse brings the audience under the spell of his creative power, which is constantly improvising and also constantly seeking expression.

After the opening sections of the story, the narration shifts beyond the white narrator to a more objective reporting of the events. Late at night, the band begins to play the one waltz of the evening, a request, and during this sad song, Powerhouse suddenly declares to the other members of the band that he has received a telegram that reads that his wife, Gypsy, has died. This declaration is the beginning of an intermittent jive that carries through the rest of the story. While playing, the other band members ask Powerhouse about her death, and Powerhouse begins to weave a story of receiving the telegram with such convincing detail, relating such pain and despair, that the reader becomes caught up in the imaginative reality of it and begins to wonder if, in fact, Powerhouse’s wife has died.

After the song ends, it is midnight, and Powerhouse calls for an intermission. Because Alligator, Mississippi, is segregated, black people cannot be served in white establishments, so the band leaves the dance hall to walk to a café in “Negrotown.” Outside, it is a bad night, rain is falling, but a large crowd of about one hundred black people, “ragged, silent, delighted,” greet the band; under the eaves of the hall outside—because they could not attend the segregated dance—these people have been listening to the music.

At the café, which is a “silent, limp room” with a “burned-out-looking nickelodeon,” the band orders beer, and Powerhouse requests a record by Bessie Smith, the great blues singer. As the jukebox plays and the band drinks beer, Powerhouse once again begins the jive about his wife, creating the circumstances of her suicide. He tells of how she was in so much anguish that she jumped out the window of a hotel, and he goes on to speak of how her brains were all over the sidewalk. One of the band members protests that these details are too graphic, too awful.

The jive continues, now developing around a “crooning creeper” who has been taking Powerhouse’s place with his wife, a man whom Powerhouse names as Uranus Knockwood. Uranus Knockwood is described in such detail, with such compellingly realistic flourishes, that the audience in the café “moans...

(The entire section is 868 words.)