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The Optimist's Daughter: A Look At Death And Dying

1426 words - 6 pages

The Optimist's Daughter: A Look at Death and Dying          

"Fay struck out with her hands, hitting at Major Bullock and Mr. Pitts and Sis, fighting with her mother, too, for a moment. She showed her claws at Laurel, and broke from the preachers last-minute arms and threw herself forward across the coffin on to the pillow, driving her lips without aim against the face under hers. She was dragged back into the library, screaming, by Miss Tennyson Bullock, out of sight behind the blanket of greenery. Judge McKelva's smoking chair lay behind them, overturned" (86).

This is a short excerpt from The Optimist's Daughter (1972) by the Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, Eudora Welty. The story is centered around Laurel McKelva Hand, a young woman who left her home in the South to live in Chicago. While in Chicago she meets Philip Hand, and they are married. Philip, however, goes to war and never returns. Laurel is now venturing to New Orleans to be with her dying father. After his death Laurel and her obnoxious stepmother, Fay, travel back to Laurel's home town of Mount Salus, Mississippi.

Once in Mount Salus, Laurel is greeted with many friends and acquaintances. The whole town has already prepared for Laurel and the remains of her father. The day of the funeral the whole town stops to pay their respects; the school ,the bank, the post office, and the court house all close. The funeral is perfect, but Laurel struggles with letting her father go. Laurel's "bridesmaids" also struggle; the "bridesmaids" are Laurel's closest friends and range from young to elderly women.

After the funeral is over Fay returns with her family to Texas for a few days while Laurel finishes saying goodbye to her old house. Fay is very bitter towards Laurel's deceased mother, Becky, and she cleanses any evidense fo her.

Everyone deals with death differently. Many people are very open while some people shut off completely. In The Optimist's Daughter everyone has to deal with the death of Judge McKelva. For example, Fay grieves for everyone to see. Eudora Welty uses the five elements of characters (speech, appearance, thoughts, how other characters in the story perceive them, and actions) to show how different people react to death and dying.

Elements such as tone and word choice are what define a character's speech. The speech is easily defined by the author because it is described throughout conversations between characters. Appearance is an element that the author can describe using a character's features and clothing. Actions are another way to let a character take on more than one dimension. In The Optimist's Daughter, however, it may be hard because there is very little action that takes place. This is why Welty uses the last two elements of creating a character, thoughts and how other characters react to them.

Judge McKelva's wife is probably not the most well developed character, but she is very defined. Fay reacts to everything, including...

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