e., the "P.O." Of this story's title). Sister has been driven to take up residence here by family discord. From here, we then learn, mostly implicitly, just how deep indeed the domestic discord (i.e., in today's psychological parlance, "dysfunctional" behavior) in Sister's family runs. As Choard points out, of this story: "Sister's move to the P.O. is presented as the result of a disruptive event: the return of the Prodigal Sister, Stella-Rondo, which interferes with the established, allegedly peaceful, order" ("Ties that Bind"). All circumstances and previously-existing character viewpoints are in fact abruptly altered, and much for the worse in this family, by Stella Rondo's and the child's sudden and unexpected appearance.
However, the exact trouble that has driven Sister here to the P.O., as Sister also tells us, began not so much with the mere return home of Stella Rondo, and Shirley T, but instead, with Sister's own comment to the rest of the family that Shirley T. strongly resembles Papa-Daddy. As Sister states: "she was the spit-image of Papa-Daddy if he cut off his beard." That seemingly off-hand comment immediately fuels enough tension for the rest of the family to now make Sister so uncomfortable continuing to liver at home that she feels forced to move to the P.O., the only place she can go to be away from them, at least physically, in the tiny town of China Grove (although this, too, is problematic, since Papa-Daddy owns the town, and was the one who secured Sister's present job in the P.O. For her in the first place).
The household tension itself had come to a head earlier, as Sister tells us early in the story, when Uncle Rondo "threw a whole five-cent package of some unsold one-inch firecrackers from the store as hard as he could into my bedroom and they every one went off." From this, Sister now gets the idea, loud and clear, that she is no longer welcome there. This also raises several puzzling questions for the reader, while encouraging us to look at the situation Welty describes from not just Sister's perspective, but from the various perspectives of other family members as well, in order to be able to understand the story at all. For example, we must now ask ourselves as readers, why are they now so angry at Sister, over a seemingly innocent, merely conversational remark? Why does the whole family seem so similar in their outspoken eccentricity? Who, for that matter, might Sister's and Stella Rondo's own father be? And what is Uncle Rondo's exact relationship to them all?
Sister does not reach any real epiphany in this story, however, or even the beginnings of physical, economic, or psychological independence. IN fact, as Welty continually implies to us, with increasing clarity (and poignancy) as the story progresses, it is the incestuous circumstances of the family itself that make the story what it is, and that in fact make the story creatively possible at all. After all (and even more tragicomically) Sister's new home at the P.O. is, after all, still entirely subsidized by her inbred family. In a small Southern town like China Grove, as Eudora starkly and vividly illustrates within this story, it is difficult indeed to escape either one's past or one's future.
Sister would have no job as China Grove's Postmistress, if it had not been arranged by Papa-Daddy, the man she flees. Sister's family is also "the main people in China Grove" and most mail that supports the post office is either for or from them. Sister has no possessions. Her exodus therefore promises to be similar, though shorter, than Stella Rondo's. In a small town like China Grove, as Welty implies, it is impossible for Sister to avoid her family. If Shirley T. is in fact Papa-Daddy's progeny (this would explain why Papa-Daddy feels so threatened by Sister's casual joke about cutting off his beard to make the resemblance clear to all), it is clear as well why Sister, now given the tangible evidence of Shirley T. To underscore Papa-Daddy's incestuous capability, wishes to create as much physical distance between herself and Papa-Daddy as possible. Still, she will likely return home soon. Within this (overtly, at least) comical story, the dark probability of incest still manages to poke through from between the lines, clearly and ominously. There is, then (as Welty, still mischievously even at the end, implies) more to this family (and story) than meets the eye. The reader may feel free to become amused, but perhaps not too amused: Sister's deceptively light-hearted narrative voice only emphasizes, rather than mitigates, her continuing vulnerability.
Like a child playing house, Sister now plays at being independent in her new domicile (with property from others). She buys nothing new for herself that has not been owned by her family. Thus, Sister simply transfers her former living arrangements to the P.O. She is physically removed from her family; yet she is still tied to them. As The Art Bin suggests, "Though the story is comic, its underlying themes are complex, concerning the tensions between family affiliation and independence, the relative nature of truth, and the insularity and uniqueness of life in a small southern community" ("Eudora: How a Southern Writer Came to Lend her Name to a Computer Program"). Existentially, Sister has not yet reached adulthood; instead she is a troubled adolescent, just trying to survive. The undertone of the story is about one sister's efforts standing up for, and to potentially protect herself in ways her younger sister may not have done, or have been able to do.
The story is also about communication - on many levels, i.e., the bantering but dead-serious quarrels, and all sorts of symbols of outside freedom- radios, letters, post offices-which in this story serve, ironically, to constrict the narrator. Eudora Welty deals, often, with the effects of communication: the words we say, the situations and meanings we perceive, what remains unspoken, to convey Sister's true motivations and fears. Here, the insular small town environment is more than just a setting- it represents the restrictive boundaries within which Sister must try to safely survive.
Choard notes, of Welty's early professional background as a professional WPA photographer and how that experience informs Welty's writing: "As a photographer, Welty had adopted the habit of never looking directly at her subject: instead, she used a type of camera where the viewfinder was placed in front of her, below her eyes. This indirect approach enabled her to catch the most spontaneous expressions, the most genuine poses. The oblique might thus paradoxically be the most direct route to reach the truth [sic]"(p. 247).
A third short story by Eudora Welty, "A Worn Path," opens with an elderly Southern African-American woman's going into town to buy medicine for her ailing grandson, and encountering numerous obstacles along the way. The title "The Worn Path," much like the traveling salesman's becoming lost in "Death of a Traveling Salesman," serves as a metaphor for something deeper within the story: the "worn path" of the main character, Phoenix's, own life. Phoenix, like the traveling salesman, also experiences memory loss as an obstacle in the completion of her trip into town. Clad in a "dark striped dress reaching down to her shoe tops, and an equally long apron of bleached sugar sacks, with a full pocket: all neat and tidy, but every time she took a step she might have fallen..." Phoenix is old, weak, and fragile, yet determined, whatever obstacles she encounters, to complete her mission. Moreover, according to Welty, Phoenix Jackson even possesses a "worn path" of a face, and "Her skin had a pattern all its own of numberless branching wrinkles..."
Along the way, Phoenix faces down various wild animals along her path, telling them: "... out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, and coons... Don't let none of those come running my direction, I got a long way (Welty, "The Worn Path")" Traversing a long steep hill, next, her dress becomes caught in some bushes.
Then she must cross a creek, using a log for a raft, slip through barbed-wire, and pick herself up, with a strange man's help, from a ditch into which she has fallen.
Next, however, this man points his gun at her. But then, however, after questioning the reason for her journey, he finally sends her on her way, giving her a nickel, thereby underscoring the idea (as is typical within Welty's fiction) that appearances or assumptions quite often do not foreshadow true realities and outcomes. At last, when Phoenix finally reaches town after her long and arduous trek, she has forgotten why she came in the first place. This poignant but comical twist, too, is characteristic of Welty's ironic, often tragicomic style.
In Eudora Welty's novel The Optimist's Daughter (1972) the author explores the literary theme of the sustaining power of friendships, and in particular, the way friendships can disappear but…