Author Eudora Welty Describes Unjust Treatment of African American Women
On the fifteenth of September 1963, a white man was seen setting a box beneath the steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The contents of the box: 122 sticks of dynamite. Minutes later, the makeshift bomb exploded, killing four young African American girls and injuring twenty-three other people. The white man, Robert Chambliss, paid a one hundred dollar fine for possessing dynamite without a permit. He was found not guilty of murder, and the case was added to a long list of "unsolved" bombings, police killings, and other acts of violence against the African American community.
This was the world in which Eudora Welty wrote. A native of the South, Welty witnessed racism and anti-Black violence-such as the infamous Birmingham Bombing-first hand. She saw the innocent injured and slain because of the color of their skin. She watched as Black men struggled and finally gained equality -and as Black women failed to be equal within the walls of their own homes. And was Eudora Welty silent? Or did she speak out against these wrongs? Critics accused Welty of ignoring politics in her work. "Some have questioned her ... failure to lobby for the rights of blacks" (Ealy). However, Welty's portrayal of African American women in her stories highlights her belief that they were trapped in a world of injustice-a society controlled by whites and a culture dominated by men. Eudora Welty speaks through two characters, Phoenix and Livvie, and their dealings with different types of authority.
Welty emphasizes the hopeless situation of African American women through her characters' encounters with the authority of nature. She creates a world in which Black women are powerless; it is a world where piles of fallen leaves or the very thorns of a bush can seem to take hold of their lives. Livvie, a young Black girl who is married to an old, domineering Black man, feels suffocated by her husband's authority. In an attempt to escape his control, if only for a brief moment, she "steal[s] away" down the Natchez Trace (Welty 157). The language Welty uses to describe Livvie's walk through the Trace shows the seriousness of her actions. She must be secretive, lest Solomon catch her in her disobedience. Livvie, however, does not go far. As if to trap her in Solomon's presence, dead leaves on the ground reach "as high as her knees," and she feels "as if she [is wading] a river as she [goes]" (Welty 157-158). These leaves are almost hostile-her legs are "all scratched and bleeding" from the journey (Welty 158). Finally, Livvie gives up altogether, saying that "it [is] not like a road that [goes] anywhere" (Welty 158). Piles of leaves halt Livvie's attempted escape. It is as if nature is protesting her challenge of authority.
Another character, Phoenix Jackson, has a similar encounter with nature. In the first paragraph of "A Worn Path," Phoenix is described as...