Date of Award

1974

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Abstract

Although Eudora Welty is a literary artist noted for her feminine approach, she is not a feminist. "In writing fiction," she says, "I think imagination comes ahead of sex." Most of the selections in her short-story volumes portray women characters, however, usually from points of view which focus upon the experiences of women from their particular angles of vision. Her women range from the young girl in "A Visit of Charity" to the aged Phoenix in "A Worn Path." This study examines Miss Welty's portrayal of women, their roles and conflicts, an aspect of her fiction that has received comparatively little critical treatment. Twenty-one stories are analyzed in detail, twenty from A Curtain of Green, The Wide Net, The Golden Apples, and The Bride of the Innisfallen, and an additional story, "A Sketching Trip," from The Atlantic Monthly (June 1945). Three of the several patterns of characterization of women in Miss Welty's short stories have been selected for analysis: initiates, isolated spinsters, and mother-women. The initiates include seven girls or women who under­ go or are ber,inning to undergo a heightened awareness cf themselves in relation to other people and to the world. "A Visit of Charity" is analyzed as an example of tentative initiation; "A Memory," "The Winds," and "At the Landing" as examples of uncompleted initiation; and "Livvie," "A Sketching Trip," and "A Curtain of Green" as examples of decisive initiation. The analyses are set within the context of American literary treatments of initiation and of psychological theories about initiation. The isolated spinsters, those whose singleness causes spiritual, psychological, or economic isolation, include ten women in six stories. These characters are studied against the background of Erich Fromm's beliefs about isolation and life-fulfillment and against the stereotype of the single woman in American fiction. "Why I Live at the P.O." depicts a spinster in a public posi­ tion. "Asphodel" presents three women as feminine, helpless spinsters. "Clytie" and "The Burning" contain aristocratic spinster sisters. "June Recital" and "The Wanderers" depict a teacher and her student as isolated spinsters. The mother-women, Kate Chopin's term for women devoted to home and family, include characters in seven stories. "Death of a Traveling Salesman," "Flowers for Marjorie," and "The Wide Net" present expectant mothers. "Ladies in Spring," "Shower of Gold," "Going to Naples," and "A Worn Path" depict women with already-established families. An eighth story, "Petrified Man," portrays women whose views toward marriage and childbirtt make them anti-mother-women. This study concludes that Miss Welty's portrayal of women is neither simple nor sentimental and that she uses realism of homely details to force her reader's attention upon conditions of the human spirit which transcend the world of things. By carefully individualizing her characters, she avoids re-creating stereotypes found in much popular fiction about women. Miss Welty's women are not only human, but their experiences also cross the sexual divide and provide iLsight into the common human situation. Her women seek, but do not always find, ful­ fillment through relationships with others. Sometimes, as in "The Bride of the Innisfallen," her women discover freedom outside the marriage-bonds. Finally, patterns of characterization in her short stories point the ay toward portrayal of women in her major novels.

Pages

497

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