Topics for Further Study
• Several early reviewers complain that Welty’s stories all concern people who are ‘‘abnormal.’’ Katherine Anne Porter goes so far as to describe Sister as ‘‘a terrifying case of dementia praecox,’’ or schizophrenia. Welty has responded that the characters are regular people who are accustomed to speaking in an exaggerated way. Do you think that Sister is mentally ill? To what degree are the family conflicts Welty portrays abnormal?
• Robert Penn Warren describes the central theme running through Welty’s writing as the conflict between love and separateness. This is a conflict that clearly applies to Sister. In your opinion, what does Sister need more—her family’s love or independence from them?
• A sibling rivalry between Sister and Stella-Rondo shapes the conflict in the story. Read some psychological theories about the sources of sibling rivalry or use your own experiences with the phenomenon. How does the concept of sibling rivalry help you understand the dynamics between the sisters and the rest of the family members?
• Welty is famous for capturing the patterns and expressions of Southern speech. Read a favorite passage from ‘‘Why I Live at the P.O.’’ aloud. What particular words, phrases, or word patterns make the sound of Welty’s writing distinctive? How does this distinctive Southern voice affect your enjoyment of the story and your understanding of the characters?
• Welty has stated that a definite sense of place in a work of fiction enhances the universality of its themes. Describe the sense of China Grove, Mississippi that Welty creates in ‘‘Why I Live at the P.O.’’ Does this, in your opinion, add or detract from the story’s universality?