Why I Live At The Po Analysis Essay

Sister - The narrator and town’s postmistress. Sister is exactly one year older than Stella-Rondo and was involved with Mr. Whitaker before Stella-Rondo became engaged to him. Sister is frank and outspoken, but her pettiness and jealousy often get the best of her, clouding her view of the world. Sister’s telling of the story is full of comedy, and her humor helps her cope with stress and the hurt that her family members sometimes inflict.

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Stella-Rondo - Sister’s rival, who returns to the family home after separating from Mr. Whitaker. Stella-Rondo relentlessly supports her own version of events, including her claim that Shirley-T. is her adopted, not biological, daughter. Hot-tempered, dramatic, and manipulative, she instigates family discord to get her family members to give her attention and emotional support.

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Mama - The family matriarch, who weighs 200 pounds. Gullible and self-deluded, Mama seems to believe whatever she is told, as long as it is coming from Stella-Rondo. Although she feels that she is a fair and supportive parent, her regard for Stella-Rondo, as opposed to Sister, seems abundantly clear. However, she reassures Sister that she would be treated the same way if she were to leave home and then return after a separation.

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Uncle Rondo - A mentally and emotionally scarred World War I veteran. Uncle Rondo wears Stella-Rondo’s flesh-colored kimono and, as is his habit every Fourth of July, consumes an entire bottle of a liquid prescription medicine and all but loses consciousness for hours. Temperamental and easily provoked, he lashes out in cruel ways when he feels he is being threatened.

Papa-Daddy - Sister’s grandfather. With his long, shaggy beard, Papa-Daddy is the classic crotchety old man, whose deafness and salty attitude cut him off from active participation in family life. He is proud of his connections and the fact that he was able to get Sister her position at the post office, which he often lords over Sister during arguments.

Shirley-T. - Stella-Rondo’s supposedly adopted two-year-old daughter. Shirley-T. is mute throughout the story except for a brief moment when she loudly belts out the theme song to Popeye the Sailor Man and refers to Uncle Rondo as Papa.

Mr. Whitaker - Stella-Rondo’s estranged husband and Sister’s former boyfriend. Rumored to have a drinking problem, Mr. Whitaker is a photographer who briefly opened a shop in China Grove. Although he never appears physically in the story, he is the source of the rivalry and hurt feelings between Sister and Stella-Rondo.

The method of “Why I Live at the P.O.” is that of a dramatic monologue. Thus, its closest literary analogue is the dramatic monologue of Robert Browning, in which there is always a gap between the way speakers perceive themselves and the way listeners perceive them. A dramatic monologue is a work in which speakers reveal themselves unawares. In such a form, the speakers, even as they seem to damn another character, actually only succeed in damning themselves. Perhaps the literary character that Sister resembles even more than a figure from Browning’s poetry is Fyodor Dostoevski’s Underground Man in his short novel Zapiski iz podpolya (1864; Notes from the Underground, 1954). As it is for Dostoevski’s nameless antihero, Sister’s logic is not so much insane as it is the rational pushed to such an extreme that it becomes irrational and perverse. It is indeed the style of her speech—that is, the whole of the story—which reveals this problem.

“Why I Live at the P.O.” is different in both tone and technique from Welty’s usual fiction. In most of her best-known stories, reality is transformed into fantasy and fable, and the logic is not that of ordinary life; here, in contrast, things remain stubbornly real. Many readers have noted that the dreamlike nature of Welty’s stories depends on her ability to squeeze meaning out of the most trivial of details. Here, however, in a story that depends on the triviality of things, there is no dreamlike effect; the trivial details are comically allowed to remain trivial. Regardless of the difference in style, however, here as elsewhere in Welty’s fiction, the focus is on the isolation of the self.

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