Where Is the Voice Coming From?

by Eudora Welty

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Last Updated June 10, 2024.


Eudora Welty’s intense short story “Where Is the Voice Coming From?” appeared in The New Yorker on July 6, 1963. Welty wrote the story during the night of June 12, 1963, the very same day civil rights activist Medger Evers was shot to death in his driveway in Jackson, Mississippi. While the tale is based on Evers’ murder, Welty chooses a unique perspective that may surprise, even shock, some readers.

Welty writes her story from the perspective of the murderer, a white man disgusted by what he views as a constant barrage of demands from the civil rights movement. The author uses the stream of consciousness technique to get deep into the murderer’s psyche, presenting his thoughts and actions in his own voice, exploring where that voice is coming from, and why the man committed such a heinous act.

Plot Summary

The story opens on a sweltering night in Thermopylae, a Southern town. The narrator tells his wife that she can turn off the television and not listen to any more about civil rights. “It’s still a free country,” he says. His words plant an idea in his head; he can find the Black man talking on television, the civil rights activist “asking for equal time,” and solve the problem once and for all.

Later that night, the man borrows a truck from his brother-in-law and starts across town. He notices that the bank sign says 92 degrees at 3:45 a.m. He arrives at his target’s home to find a light on, but the man’s car is gone. He waits, hoping he will not melt in the intense heat.

As he waits, the man thinks about why he is determined to murder the activist. He explains, “I done what I done for my own pure-D satisfaction.” He wants nothing else, no fame, no reward. Before long, the soon-to-be victim, whose name is Roland Summers, pulls into his driveway. The murderer notices his new white car and  recognizes his target immediately.

The killer has his rifle in place and Summers in his sights. “And I’d already got him, because it was too late then for him or me to turn by one hair.” With one pull of the trigger, Summers falls. He manages to get to his doorstep and then lies still. The murderer looks at his victim and tells him that they will never be
equals now because Summers is dead.

The killer climbs back into his truck and drives away, noticing that Summers’ wife is coming out the door to find her husband shot to death. On the way home, he notices that the bank clock says 4:34 and still 92 degrees. At home, the man’s wife scolds him for leaving his rifle in the weeds, but he complains that it is too hot to touch. She also tells him that he should have waited because he could have eliminated someone more important than Roland Summers. The NAACP will be sending “somebody better” to Thermopylae soon.

The murderer comments that at least he did the deed rather than “some dern teen-ager” who would just get caught. This killer does not get caught. He goes about his business, listening to news about the murder and even discussing it with others. Some people think the NAACP had Summers killed; others think the police will never find the murderer.

The man reflects that sometimes, the common people have to take a stand. They have to tell the judges, teachers, preachers, and the president there are limits to what they will put up with. The heat still bothers the man as he remembers how Summers fell, and he picks up his guitar and starts to sing.

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