Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The method of “Why I Live at the P.O.” is that of a dramatic monologue. Thus, its closest literary analogue is the dramatic monologue of Robert Browning, in which there is always a gap between the way speakers perceive themselves and the way listeners perceive them. A dramatic monologue is a work in which speakers reveal themselves unawares. In such a form, the speakers, even as they seem to damn another character, actually only succeed in damning themselves. Perhaps the literary character that Sister resembles even more than a figure from Browning’s poetry is Fyodor Dostoevski’s Underground Man in his short novel Zapiski iz podpolya (1864; Notes from the Underground, 1954). As it is for Dostoevski’s nameless antihero, Sister’s logic is not so much insane as it is the rational pushed to such an extreme that it becomes irrational and perverse. It is indeed the style of her speech—that is, the whole of the story—which reveals this problem.

“Why I Live at the P.O.” is different in both tone and technique from Welty’s usual fiction. In most of her best-known stories, reality is transformed into fantasy and fable, and the logic is not that of ordinary life; here, in contrast, things remain stubbornly real. Many readers have noted that the dreamlike nature of Welty’s stories depends on her ability to squeeze meaning out of the most trivial of details. Here, however, in a story that depends on the triviality of things, there is no dreamlike effect; the trivial details are comically allowed to remain trivial. Regardless of the difference in style, however, here as elsewhere in Welty’s fiction, the focus is on the isolation of the self.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Modern America and the Provincial South
Over the first few decades of the twentieth century, the lifestyles of citizens across...

(The entire section is 655 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Sister narrates the story of her estrangement from her family from her new "home" at the China Grove post office, the...

(The entire section is 715 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

As has been noted, Welty uses the same narrative technique in this story as she had used in The Ponder Heart, a technique she...

(The entire section is 144 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The small Southern town is Welty's typical setting, and this story is no exception. The "Edna Earle" (please see entry on The Ponder...

(The entire section is 208 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1930s: The number of U.S. post offices is down from its peak of almost 77,000 at the turn of the century, but free collection and...

(The entire section is 346 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

• Several early reviewers complain that Welty’s stories all concern people who are ‘‘abnormal.’’ Katherine Anne Porter goes so...

(The entire section is 275 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

There are a host of Welty stories that capture Southern manners, and all of her work is dependent in one way or another on her Southern...

(The entire section is 127 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

Eudora Welty reads ‘‘Why I Live at the P.O.’’ on a 1998 Caedmon audio cassette entitled ‘‘Eudora Welty Reads.’’

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What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

The Wide Net and Other Stories (1943), her highly acclaimed second collection of short stories, portrays a series of southern...

(The entire section is 165 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)


Hauser, Marianne. New York Times, November 16, 1941, p. 6.

Johnston, Carol Ann. Eudora...

(The entire section is 269 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Champion, Laurie. The Critical Response to Eudora Welty’s Fiction. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Gygax, Franziska. Serious Daring from Within: Female Narrative Strategies in Eudora Welty’s Novels. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.

Gretlund, Jan Nordby. Eudora Welty’s Aesthetics of Place. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1994.

Gretlund, Jan Nordby, and Karl-Heinz Westarp, eds. The Late Novels of Eudora Welty. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998.

Johnston, Carol Ann. Eudora Welty: A Study of the Short...

(The entire section is 157 words.)