Read an in-depth analysis of Sister.
Read an in-depth analysis of Stella-Rondo.
Read an in-depth analysis of Mama.
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.
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.