Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"Why I Live at the P. O." by Eudora Welty

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"Why I Live at the P. O." by Eudora Welty (1941, 10 pages)

I have seen Eudora Welty's name on several "best American short story" lists.   Welty was born in Jackson, Mississippi (in the southern portion of the USA) in 1909 and she died there in 2001.     She received the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for her novel, The Optimist's Daughter.     She also wrote a number of short stories (41, I think).

.   As her work is not and will not be in the public domain for many years to come I was happy to see one of her most famous short stories, "Why I  Live at the P. O." can be read online.   ("P. O".  for those not familiar with American short hand slang, stands for Post Office.)  Wikipedia has a good basic article on her life and career.     Welty never married or had any children.    She did travel extensively in the USA and Europe.   When asked in an interview who the writers who had most influenced her were she mentioned in order Chekhov, Katherine Mansfield, and Virginia Woolf.    Welty was a very accomplished photographer and taught college classes in creative writing.     She was a friend of William Faulkner and Katherine Anne Porter.

Why I Live at the P. O." is told in the first person by a woman who has some serious issues with her family.   I will quote from the opening lines of the story so readers can see Welty's prose style:

I WAS GETTING ALONG FINE with Mama, Papa-Daddy and Uncle Rondo until my sister Stella-Rondo just separated from her husband and came back home again. Mr. Whitaker! Of course I went with Mr. Whitaker first, when he first appeared here in China Grove, taking "Pose Yourself" photos, and Stella-Rondo broke us up. Told him I was one-sided. Bigger on one side than the other, which is a deliberate, calculated falsehood: I'm the same. Stella-Rondo is exactly twelve months to the day younger than I am and for that reason she's spoiled.

One can see a life time of family history in these lines or perhaps it is better to say one can construct a life time from them.    The world of the story is a very insular one.   Of course there is no TV, no Internet (horrors), no cell phones and every body who lives in the town the story is set in was born there.     (Sometimes I think stories from the American south that make use of regional dialogue seem patronizing to those not from the region. )     Sometimes stories about people from the American south seem to over emphasis the insularity of the region, its poverty and problematic racial attitudes.    This predisposes international readers of such stories to dismiss the people in the stories of  writers from the American South as "hicks".   I am not saying this is right or fair but it is an accurate statement of perceptions.  

Welty lets the characters tell the story.   We get a really good look at the family dynamics of the Rondo clan.
This story is fun.    You can decide for your self if the narrator was justified in living at the Post Office (where she worked) or not.    It is a good story and a very enjoyable read.  

"Why I Live at the P. O." can be read online

I think this is a story that could be taught to students 12 and above.

Mel u


Bybee said...

I love this story!!! This family puts the fun in dysfunctional!

Anonymous said...

I keep meaning to read some of her stories... She is a big reference in short story writing.

JoAnn said...

Glad you had fun with this story, Mel. I really enjoyed it, too. I'll be reading my first Welty novel,The Optimist's Daughter, later this month for Virago Week.

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

I think your perceptions about literature from the southern US are interesting. It's always nice to see a positive review of one of my favorite writers!

Hannah said...

This has long been my very favorite story ever. I grew up in the rural US South and definitely identified with the snappy, independent young woman who is nevertheless caught in the web that binds her. I read it aloud to my fellow students in 7th grade (the same year I read the almost-as-wonderful "Tell-Tale Heart" by Poe). What a wonderful story to read aloud. Try some of Welty's other stories. Maybe "Petrified Man"?

Mel u said...

Bybee-yes and thanks for your comments

emeire-yes I do feel I should read more of her work

Joann-I might read Optimists Daughter, especially if you really like it in your forthcoming post

As The Crowe Flies-thanks very much

LifetimeReader-I have been telling myself I should read another Poe short story soon!