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Eudora Welty’s stories rank among my favorite works that I read in my high school English class, partially out of pure southern pride. But, with her simple statements of the absurd, her stories also capture the essence of those moments of human existence that are funny, darkly real, or a combination of both. Her characters ask questions like “Do you think it wise to disport with ketchup in Stella-Rondo’s flesh-colored kimono?” even when they lead suffocating lives. They are closed in by poverty and the small towns they live in; their lives are bleak—sometimes too bleak, as in “Flowers for Marjorie”—and yet somehow Welty is able to demonstrate moments of humor and human insight.
Nevertheless, I had only read a limited amount of Welty and wanted to get to know her more intimately, so I picked up “The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty” when I got back from Argentina this summer. Argentine culture and literature are strongly linked to its landscape, and perhaps it’s because of the time I spent there that I noticed more acutely the way in which Welty’s stories unfold in such specific landscapes. I had always loved her characters, but they can only exist near places like the Pearl River of “The Wide Net.” The story’s protagonist is searching the river for the body of his wife, who may or may not have drowned herself. Despite the gravity of the main character’s situation, he remains placid, just like the river Welty describes: “The sandbars were pink or violet drifts ahead. Where the light fell on the river, in a wandering from shore to shore, it was leaf-shaped spangles that trembled softly, while the dark of the river was calm.”
Welty explores the full scope of humanity in her stories, despite the profound racial tensions of the society in which she lived. In “Powerhouse,” which was originally published in 1941, she delves into the voices of a group of black musicians who are providing music for a whites-only dance, while in “Where Is the Voice Coming From?” she tries to portray the motivations of a racist murderer. And it is in the breadth of the collection that one can really see the driving force of all of Welty’s work: to portray all human lives, no matter how small, in all of their absurdity and poignancy.
—Meredith S. Steuer
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