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Short Story Analysis: Why I Live at the P.O.
Why I Live at the P.O. was written by Eudora Welty, born in 1909 and passed away from pneumonia in 2001, in Jackson, Mississippi. During the Great Depression Welty worked as a photographer. Her inspiration behind writing Why I Live at the P.O. came from a photograph she took of a woman ironing in the back of a small post office. Sister, the first-person narrator, in the short story Why I Live at the P.O., causes external conflicts within her family as a result of her inner-conflicts, such as lack of self-confidence and a demanding need to be the center of attention. It is because of these conflicts she deals with inside herself that she is prompted to move out of her families home and into the post office. As Sister tells her side of the story, the reader has sympathy for her as she describes how her younger sister, Stella-Rondo, turned her family against her. However, her pretentious characteristic unconsciously modifies her situation to humorous. Why I Live at the P.O. is a categorized as a dramatic monologue that takes a formalist approach, with an emphasis on irony. Sister constantly insists that her feelings be consider but the family, but “throughout the story Sister shows that she is incapable of feeling compassion toward her family, while ironically she accuses her family of not showing proper empathy” (Sexton 1). Sister defeats herself by letting her inner-conflict lash out on her family causing external tension and quarrels among her family.
In Why I Live at the P.O. the dynamics of the family change when youngest daughter, Stella-Rondo returns home to China Grove, Mississippi from a failed marriage with Mr. Whitaker and brought home a two year old daughter named Shirley T. Stella-Rondo claims that Shirley T. is adopted and everyone except Sister believes her. Sister shows her strong stand in her idea that Shirley T. is not adopted by saying Mama “couldn’t convince me though she talked till she was blue in the face” (Welty 486). Mama defends Stella-Rondo by stating; “I prefer to take my children’s word for anything when it’s humanly possible” (Welty 487). Sister’s previous relationship with Mr. Whitaker and her insistence that Shirley T. is Stella-Rondo’s daughter, and not adopted sparks up some problems, and from the start of Sister’s side of the story, “she means to convince us that all problems caused in the house can be traced to the arrival of Stella-Rondo” (Sexton 1). However, the real source behind the tension and deceit between Sister and Stella-Rondo is due to Sister no longer being the focus and center of the family’s attention.
As a result to Sister wanting to be back in the spotlight she resorts to childish deceit. “Sister tries to ingratiate herself to her family by using Stella-Rondo’s untimely return as the catalyst for her diatribe. However, Sister’s words backfire as Stella-Rondo uses them against her” (Bouton 201). Stella-Rondo is not dealing with conflict within herself, so it is easier for her to stand up against Sister and use small tactics to bring her down since she already has low self-confidence. Throughout conversation among the family upon Stella-Rondo’s return, Sister frequently interjects her input with pernicious intent. “While the rest of the family either humors or ignores Sister’s comments, Stella-Rondo challenges her” (Bouton 202). It is at this point in the story when her family and the reader no longer sympathize with Sister. Since sister is the storyteller she is able to summarize her side of the story instead of using dialogue. By using internal monologue to convey to the readers what is taking place denies the audience ability to see her real intentions behind her malicious acts. Sister being the storyteller sets her up to be able to win over her family, but she lets her own machinations triumph over her. Sister is able to create herself and dictate the outcome of the story being the narrator, which is ironic because in the end Sister does not come out on top and in favor of the family. She becomes isolated and rejected by her family. Her characteristics of having low self-esteem, dire need for attention, and being confrontational make her vulnerable to Stella-Rondo’s more manipulative personality.
Looking past the light, comedic plot, the reader can interpret the deeper themes that hit on the common tensions that can occur between family and the nature of self-independence. Two emotions that help simplify life while living among a society are emotions that Sister ironically lacks, empathy and compassion; yet she claims that everyone in her family is cruel to her. “As Stella-Rondo steals her audience, Sister jumps through unbelievable hoops to make this story hers” (Bouton 205). There are times in society when everyone goes to unbelievable lengths to be noticed and heard. Sister goes to such a length that she decides to move out of the house and into the Post Office in her search for once again being the center of attention. Sister’s struggle within herself is what pushes her to the point of striving for independence, yet it is ironic that “Sister’s arrangement for independence [was] in the aftermath of her family’s Independence Day” (Whitaker 116). Mama reveals that she is surprised in the situation through stating, “to think that a family of mine should quarrel on the Fourth of July, or the day after, over Stella-Rondo leaving old Mr. Whitaker and having the sweetest little adopted child! It looks like we’d all be glad” (Welty 490). The Fourth of July is seen as a time of celebration, and you would think it would be an even bigger celebration because of Stella-Rondo returning home, but Sister lets her pride and internal struggles stand in the way. Sister proves to her family her sincerity of living at the Post Office when she says, “But here I am, and here I’ll stay. I want the world to know I’m happy” (Welty 491). Sister can hope to convince her audience that she is happy living alone, however, “as an attention-seeker, she will not be content living in isolation for very long” (Bouton 205). Instead of giving off the impression that she would like people to imply of being happy and content, “Sister becomes a pedagogue, if only by negative example, from the post-office window, denouncing familial pleasantries and obfuscations” (Whitaker 117).
Work Cited Page:
Bouton, Reine Dugas "The Struggle for Agency in Eudora Welty's 'Why I Live at the P.O.’” Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies 32.3 (2001): 201. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 24 Oct. 2009.
Sexton, Timothy. "Eudora Welty's Why I Live at the PO." Associated Content. 27 Oct. 2005. Web. 24 Oct 2009.
Welty, Eudora. Why I Live at the P.O. 1941. Literature:
Approaches to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. Robert DiYanni.
Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008. 483-491. Print.
Whitaker, Elaine E. "Why I live at the P.O." Explicator 50.2 (1992): 115-117. MAS Ultra School Edition. EBSCO. Web. 24 Oct. 2009.