A Visit of Charity

by Eudora Welty

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The action of “A Visit of Charity” is deceptively simple. Marian, a young Campfire Girl, reluctantly visits an “Old Ladies’ Home” to gain points for her charity work. While there, she meets two old women, one who chatters on in an obsequious way and another, old Addie, who, confined to bed, resents the little girl’s visit as well as her own babbling roommate. When Marian leaves the home, she retrieves an apple that she hid before entering and takes a big bite out of it. Thus the story ends in a seemingly inconclusive way, leaving the reader to wonder if it is really a story at all. When one looks beneath the slight surface action of the story, however, one sees that “A Visit of Charity” has a complex structure based on a series of metaphoric devices, all of which serve to evoke the dreamlike grotesque atmosphere within the nursing home.

As Marian enters the home, the bulging linoleum on the floor makes her feel as if she is walking on the waves, and the smell in the building is like the interior of a clock. When the mannish nurse tells Marian that there are “two” in each room, Marian asks, “Two what?” The garrulous old woman is described as a birdlike creature who plucks Marian’s hat off with a hand like a claw, while old Addie has a “bunchy white forehead and red eyes like a sheep”; she even “bleats” when she says, “Who—are—you?” Marian feels as if she has been caught in a robber’s cave; she cannot even remember her own name. In her dreamy state, Marian cannot think clearly. When the old woman rocks faster and faster in her chair, Marian cannot understand how anyone can rock so fast.

The climax of the story occurs when it is discovered that it is old Addie’s birthday. When the babbling roommate tells Marian that when she was a child she went to school, Addie lashes out in the single long speech in the story, telling her roommate that she was never young and that she never went to school: “You never were anything—only here. You never were born! You don’t know anything. . . . Who are you? You’re a stranger—a perfect stranger.” When Marian goes over to Addie, she looks at her very closely from all sides, “as in dreams,” and she wonders about her as if “there was nothing else in the world to wonder about. It was the first time such a thing had happened to Marian.” When she asks the old woman how old she is, Addie says “I won’t tell” and whimpers like a sheep, like a little lamb. In the last paragraph of the story, Marian has escaped her terrifying experience; when she jumps on the bus, she takes a big bite out of the apple that she hid, seemingly unaffected by her nightmarish experience with the old women.

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