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Remembrance And Forgetfulnes In Eudora Welty's "The Optimist’s Daughter"

1659 words - 7 pages

Memory is a common motif for southern literature. Eudora Welty’s novel The Optimist’s Daughter is no exception to this generalization as it strongly entails both aspects of memory – remembrance and forgetfulness. The stark dichotomy of memory can be looked at as both a blessing and a burden. Characters throughout this novel and so many other pieces of southern literature struggle with the past which they wish to keep, but cannot fully, and a past from which they want to escape, but cannot fully. Memory, in its purest form, can best be described as a creature’s mental capability to accumulate, hold on to, and retrieve information. In southern literature, this same definition can be applied to memory. The south, plain and simple, is all about heritage, and this same concept can be applied to the literature of the south. There are those things the south wants to remember and those things it wants to forget. The antebellum age of the south was between the dawn of the United States and the beginning of the civil war. The south has many memories about the time period prior to the war, both good and bad. There are the parts of their heritage which they wish to remember such as the plantation south and strong family ties as well as those they wish to forget, such as slavery, their loss of the civil war, and the reconstruction period that the civil war led to. The south’s loss in the civil war may have been hard to cope with, but it still has had the longest lasting impact. One simple question with so many complex answers can be asked to sum up the feelings of the south – “heritage or hate”.
In Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter, what’s lost is a blessing, but what’s lost is also a burden. The relationship between this blessing and burden creates a tension spanning throughout the entirety of the text. Characters continuously struggle with the concept of memory, including Fay when she says, “‘My family? None of ‘em living’” (27). Through this statement Fay denies having any recollection of her past. Throughout The Optimist’s Daughter, many references are made to both birds and flowers. This is not just limited to the text inside of the novel as even the novel’s cover depicts multiple birds and flowers. In the context of the novel, flowers typically symbolize something good while birds symbolize something bad. The floral images throughout the novel have significant importance with the stories that are being told. Remembering his late wife Becky at the beginning of the story, Judge McKelva states, “‘Of course, my memory had slipped. Becky would say it served me right. Before blooming is the wrong time to prune a climber,’ Judge McKelva went on in the same confidential way; the doctor’s face was very near to his. ‘But Becky’s Climber I’ve found will hardly take a setback.’ ‘Hardly,’ the doctor murmured. ‘I believe my sister still grows one now from a cutting of Miss Becky’s Climber’” (5). Though this story occurs early in the...

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