Property as Feminist Dynamic in Welty's Delta Wedding
In our traditionally patriarchal society, primogeniture is the norm for inheritance of property. For anyone other than a first-born son to inherit the family estate is unusual. Even more unusual is inheritance by women, who in many localities were forbidden from owning property. Thus, the pattern of inheritance which Robbie notes in Delta Wedding is a significant departure from cultural norms. Eudora Welty depicts a domestic politic which represents a feminist dynamic departing from, yet not entirely escaping, patriarchy.
On the surface, women occupy a dominant role in the domestic politics of the novel. Robbie testifies to several ways in which this is true. First, in the Fairchild family "the women always ruled the roost" (190). Robbie represents the attitudes of traditional patriarchy by asserting that this is not the proper order of things. She "believed in her soul that men should rule the roost" (190). This appears to be an inverted power structure, in which the women are the dominant party rather than behaving submissively toward their men. Indeed "it was notoriously the women of the Fairchilds who... ran the household and had everything at their fingertips- not the men" (190). The Delta seems to be a woman's world which men inhabit at the beneficence of women. Another example of the inversion of patriarchy is the pattern of inheritance. Not only do women as a norm inherit the property, if this rule is violated "their brothers, guiltily, handed it over" (190). Robbie states that "in the Delta, the land belonged to the women- they only let the men have it" (190). She goes on to enumerate three generations of property transfers which prove her observation. Land is power and the women in the family are the arbiters of it. Robbie, the mouthpiece for patriarchy, shivers to realize that "the men lived here on a kind of sufferance" (191).
Despite this clear delineation of an inverted power structure, the Fairchild women do not completely escape patriarchy. The system is still not truly matriarchal, as the women subvert male dominance without genuinely replacing it. "It was as if the women had exacted the place, the land, for something- for something they had had to give" (191). Presumably, this transaction represents an acceptance by the women of a conditional patriarchy. However, for all their authority in the "roost," the women do not maintain control over their trump card: the land. After exacting the land from the men, "they had let it out of their hands" (191). This voluntary subjugation undermines patriarchy without destroying it. By ceding their power, they place themselves in a position to more legitimately (according to the dominant culture) regain it. The Fairchild "women knew what to ask of their men. Adoration, first - but not least. Then, small sacrifice by small sacrifice, the little pieces of the whole body! (191). At the conclusion of this intricate game...