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

Why I Live at the P.O. - Eudora WeltyIn Why I Live at the P.O. by Eudora Welty we have the theme of jealousy, conflict, independence, escape, isolation and honesty. Taken from her A Curtain of Green and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by a young unnamed woman and from the beginning of the story Welty appears to be exploring the theme of jealousy and conflict. By introducing Mr Whitaker into the story the reader realises that Welty is pitting both the narrator and her sister Stella-Rondo against each other. There is a sense of animosity between both characters with the narrator feeling that Stella-Rondo stole Mr Whitaker from her. Though only briefly mentioned Mr Whitaker is an important character as he represents an avenue of escape for Stella-Rondo (and the narrator) though it is also noticeable that Stella-Rondo’s escape from her family is short lived. As to why the narrator or Stella-Rondo might want to escape from the life they are living is never fully explained though it is interesting that Stella-Rondo does call her child Shirley T. after a famous child actor of the time (Shirley Temple). The animosity or sibling rivalry between the narrator and Stella-Rondo is further noticeable when Stella-Rondo tells Papa-Daddy that the narrator can’t understand why he doesn’t cut off his beard.

Though this may seem to be insignificant it is important as it is possible that Stella-Rondo is attempting to divide the family and have Papa-Daddy on her side. Which in turn would isolate the narrator. It may also be important that after trying to defend herself and tell Papa-Daddy that she didn’t say anything that the narrator leaves the table. By doing so she is symbolically isolating herself from her family though she may not necessarily be aware of it yet. It is also interesting that when Papa-Daddy makes his way from the table to the garden so that he can lie on the hammock he ignores the narrator, passing right by her. Again this may be important as it suggests that Stella-Ronda has succeeded in disrupting any relationship that Papa-Daddy and the narrator have. So annoyed is Papa-Daddy that he starts to tell Uncle Rondo about the narrator’s past and the things she was unable to do (like reading) when she was younger. If anything Papa-Daddy having become upset and believing Stella-Rondo is trying to do as Stella-Rondo has done and turn a family member against the narrator. In essence he like Stella-Rondo is attempting to further isolate the narrator without taking into consideration Stella-Rondo’s motives (jealousy) and the possibility that she may be lying (dishonest).

There is also some symbolism in the story which may be important. The fact that Stella-Rondo likes to keep the windows shut, believing it will keep things cooler, could symbolize her isolation from the outside world. If anything she is keeping the world at bay or at a distance. The cheap Kress tweezers that Stella-Rondo uses on her eyebrows may also be symbolically significant as Welty by introducing them into the story could be suggesting that both the narrator and Stella-Rondo look at things differently or see things differently particularly when it comes to Shirley T. The fact that the story begins on the 4th of July, Independence Day, may also be important as Welty could be using the date to highlight the step to independence that the narrator takes at the end of the story by moving to the Post Office. It might also be a case that Welty by having the narrator take the radio with her to the Post Office is symbolically suggesting that the narrator’s family will be isolated from the outside world.

What is also interesting is that as the story continues other members of the family begin to turn against or isolate the narrator. After Papa-Daddy ignores the narrator her mother on discovery that Shirley T. is not mute as the narrator might have suspected bonds with Shirley T. for the first time in the story. Which may be important as it not only connects Shirley T. with the narrator’s mother but it also connects her with Stella-Rondo. Creating a closer bond than the narrator herself has with her mother. Stella-Rondo also manages to turn Uncle Rondo against the narrator by suggesting that the narrator had said he looked foolish while wearing the kimono in the garden. It is this continual isolation from her family that triggers the narrator into the decision that it is time for her to move out of the family home.

How determined the narrator actually is noticeable by her actions after Uncle Rondo throws the fire crackers into her room. She starts to take things from the house that belong to her, though they may not necessarily be of any benefit to her. Which may be the point that the narrator is trying to make. If anything she is taking things so that other members of her family do not benefit from using them. She is attempting to break any connection or tie she has with her family. The reader aware that the narrator’s motives are driven by the fact that she has been isolated by each member of her family who have believed Stella-Rondo and her lies rather than believing the narrator. Some readers might also suggest that the narrator is being petty in what she is doing and is in reality isolating herself further by moving to the Post Office. Though she may not have the support of her family it is also possible that by leaving them she is also ensuring she will never have their support should she need it. However it is noticeable that both the narrator’s mother and Stella-Rondo do vow never to visit the Post Office. Which would suggest that the narrator’s actions of taking things she believes are hers is further severing any links she may have with her family. Despite this the narrator after five days alone in the Post Office professes to be happy but is still thinking about her family. Which might suggest that the narrator has done no more than physically move out of the family home and still remains attached in some way to her family. The narrator’s separation or isolation from her family may not necessarily be as complete as she would like to think.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Why I Live at the P.O. by Eudora Welty." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 11 Jun. 2016. Web.

2 comments

  • This review misses the point of the story, which is a humorous look at life through the eyes of an unreliable narrator. By referring to Stella-Rondo’s “lies,” the reviewer takes sides. In fact it is never made clear whether Stella-Rondo is lying or not; although Stella-Rondo’s version of events may be dubious, the narrator’s accusations are patently absurd and the fact that her tale reveals every single member of her family always disbelieves every word out of her mouth suggests that the people who know her best don’t find her trustworthy. There are other clues that the narrator is habitually spiteful, such as her theft of her mother’s sewing machine engine, a present she “paid the most on,” which will be of no use to her without a sewing machine attached to it. The humor of the story arises from the incongruity between the way the narrator addresses the audience as if she is an innocent victim deserving of sympathy, and the reader’s dawning awareness that the narrator is a very unpleasant person, possibly even the true villain of the piece.

    The speculation that the Kress tweezers and the Fourth of July were chosen as symbols is exactly the sort of analysis Welty liked to make fun of. This is a funny story about a funny family. Welty had a incredible ear for language, and a gift for portraying the quirks which are taken for granted within every family but seem insane to outsiders. Reading the story straight and searching for deep meanings is bizarre.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Allie. You make some excellent and valid points. When I reviewed the story I had two choices. To either view the narrator as reliable or not. I went with the former and decided to believe the narrator. The ‘down side’ of which is that I tended to side with the narrator. It was a conscious decision I made and was fully aware of the pitfalls of assuming that the narrator was reliable. As I was reading the story I did consider the narrator to be somewhat vindictive, particularly when she decided to take items from the house. However again I had committed myself or sided with the narrator and as such was supportive if not understanding of the narrator’s actions.

      Part of the reason I viewed the narrator as reliable was I wished to be able to see things through her eyes. How she felt as if the world was against her. Though the reality may very well be that the world is not against the narrator. Either way I would consider a review of the story in whereby the narrator is treated as either reliable or unreliable to be valid. Each individual reader is going to interpret the story differently.

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