Feminine Consciousness in Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s DaughterK.Sankari, Research Scholar, AVVM Sri Pushpam College (Autonomous), PoondiDr.R.Shanthi, Associate Professor in English, AVVM Sri Pushpam College (Auto.), Poondi. Eudora Welty resists any critical attempt to tie her or her works to any feminist agenda but her works are beset with feminist issues. She is a follower of women writers such as Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Anne Porter, and others. Welty has derived the themes of womanhood such as marriage, love, courtship and the struggle of women to gain their freedom from Austen. Welty is not merely satisfied with raising awareness about feminine concerns like Austen; she has created formidable female heroines who are defiant to the masculine society. In her works, Welty responds to Woolf’s fiction because she is an admirer of Woolf. Welty creates a narrative discourse which is in opposition to the conventional male discourse. she commits herself to the standards and the norms of feminine fiction. She endorses a feminine consciousness that constantly disrupts and challenges the stereotypes and the inherited assumptions of the masculine narrative. Welty’s discourse is stylistically patterned to convey the specificity of women’s experience. The stylistic patterns include Welty’s feminine appropriation of patriarchal myths and legends, her feminine perception of time, her appropriation of the weaving metaphor, and her idiosyncratic use of symbols and images.Welty’s unique use of symbols and images is a major feature of her feminine discourse. In The Optimist’s Daughter, Welty has successfully encoded a feminine experience through using certain symbols and images that have to do with women’s empirical realm. The novel is about the struggle of a widow in her middle forties. She is trying to make sense out of the past, to understand her parent’s dying vow, to comprehend why her father took for a second wife a crass, low bred woman younger than his daughter, and to interpret her own brief marriage which ended suddenly by war and death. Her unique handling of memory is clear subversion of the masculine narrative. Laurel’s unrepressed memory has the power to move beyond the linearity of time and, in upshot, questions the past and reassesses the present and reflects on the future. Welty’s recourse to memory serves other purposes. It enables the protagonist to recover the matriarchal relationship and it leads to the emergence of the feminine point of view. It becomes central to the whole narrative. Laurel does not seem to be interested in the sequence of actions but rather in the thematic connections among these actions. She is cynical of the past. So she refuses to accept its linearity and stringency because the past seems to be full of lies for her. When Major Bullock starts to speak about the heroic achievements of Judge McKelva, Laurel protests. Laurel’s mind moves back and forth in a shuttling movement. when Laurel realizes through her memory that the relationship between her father and mother was not as golden as she mistakenly thinks. When Laurel searches the room of her parents and finds the letters her father sent to her mother, that her memory starts to question the fixity of the past. Laurel gets perturbed when she realizes that neither she nor her father had been of any help to her mother in her sickness: “Her trouble was thatvery desperation. And no one had the power to cause that except the one shedesperately loved. It was betrayal over betrayal” (150). Laurel also blames herself because she had been as helpless as her father in her mother’s torment. Becky is blaming Laurel: “You could have saved your mother. But youstood by and wouldn’t intervene. I despair for you” (151). Thus, memory has the power of disrupting the past and questioning its masculine claims.Welty’s frequent references to the Mardi Gras carnival are of great importance. The carnival marks the celebration of the body and sexual intercourse. Fay stands for this carnivalistic spirit. She is being associated with images of sexuality and sensuality. The pink satin color in her room is a sign of her prevailing sexual desire. Even when her husband lies motionless in the hospital, she is addressing him: “How doyou like ‘em hon? Don’t you want to let’s go dancing?” (28). Fay describes herself as a lady of the future. She does not appreciate the past. She believes that the past is full of deprivation and austerity. The festive present is a prefiguration of the future for her. So, it is not surprising when she is speaking to the dead body of her husband: “Oh, hon, get up, get out of there” (85). Actually, Welty parodies women mourning overdead husbands in this comic scen. However, Welty seems to be using the double consciousness technique. Her major purpose is to show how the past is illusive to Fay; even if her husband is lying dead, she thinks he is still alive.The shift from vision to other senses is another significant sign which registers Welty’s opposition to the specular system in patriarchal society. The symbolic reference to the freed hands is a means of affirming the feminine identity by artistic creativity and economic independence. Judge McKelva is complaining about an eye problem in the beginning of the novel. At first, it is believed to be an not worth mentioning disturbance caused by a small scratch from Becky’s climber but his eye starts to disturb him more. So he decides to see Dr. Courtland. It is not an exterior problem. His inability to see widens to the people around him. His distorted vision goes beyond the physically crippled eyesight; it has the act of perception. This displaced vision has already affected his daughter Laurel. The problem of distorted vision permeates the wholenovel. Mr. Dalzell complains of an eye problem. In his blindness and hallucination, he takes Judge McKelva for his son Archie Lee. It is a humorous episode, nevertheless it is significant because the irony of the situation undercuts any heroic assumptions about vulnerable McKelva. Becky’s prolonged blindness is a desperate case. Dr.Courtland operates on her many times but his efforts churn out to be unsuccessful. Becky shows more confidence and patience so far she suffers for five long years. She shows to be more optimistic than her husband who has always claimed to be an optimist. Another image of distorted vision is Tom Farris, the blind man of Mount Salus. Farris’ blindness seems to be unfortunate because his eyes are open, yet they are like the eyes in the blind statue. Welty hints that the specular system of this society is at fault and the only option available is the replacement by a feminine contraption which is based in the body and other senses. predominantly women in this society are caught up in this system, but each is trying to adopt or resist it in her own way. Becky is a victim of this system. She maintains on using make up and wearing the best clothes even in her sickness. Fay is also a sufferer of this system. Though she is not very young, she insists on having her hair twisted like a child. The pink color that permeates the room is an attempt on her part to make herself as attractive as possible. Her room reflects her desire. Fay wants to be a source of sexual invitation. Fay’s sexual strategies are in boldness to this culture. Fay wishes to be the eternally pretty girl inthe eyes of her elderly husband, Judge McKelva. In fact, Welty’s disappointment with the culture is made clear when she takes off in on the candy box, there is a picture of the beautiful girl which is left after the funeral is over. This picture represents the standards of beauty as they are visualized by the masculine specular system of society. Welty strongly discards this system. The telescope of JudgeMcKelva determined her refusal.. In addition to these, Welty uses other symbols and images to reflect a feminine consciousness. Birds are used as an emblem of women’s captivity; the trapped bird in Laurel’s room is a frightening thing which recalls the image of the housewife being the angel of the house. The pigeons of Laurel’s grandmother stand for interdependence, which some women find disgusting. Furthermore, the cardinals that come to Becky’s reflectors are a symbol of disturbing intrusion. The mockingbird’s song that accompanies the gossip of Mount Salus women is a reminder of the pride inherited from patriarchal traditions.Besides the birds, Welty uses flowers and plants that have to do with women’s experience. Becky’s climber is seen as a symbol of women’s suffering in patriarchal societies. The hibiscus flower, after which the Hibiscus Hotel is named, stands for the sense of mutability inherent in chivalric societies. Becky has always lived in fear because she senses the mutable nature of Judge McKelva. Other flowers such as tulips pervade the scene; these flowers are usually associated with women’s defiance of man’s oppression. The laurel flower, after which Laurel Hand is named, is associated with the matriarchal relationship. Laurel’s regret over not taking care of her mother is reminiscent of the myth of Daphne and Laurel. In this myth Daphne, the daughter expresses her regret for not listening to her mother. The fig tree also has a biblical connotation which is associated with woman’s sexuality. Becky’s attempt to protect the fig tree from the cardinals is viewed by her as a regrettable and vain act.The Optimist’s Daughter is also full of images that appeal to women. The images of daughters comforting their fathers on their death bed are recurrent in the novel. Laurel and her mother Becky are seen sitting beside their fathers in their ordeal. These daughters, however, are guilt stricken because they do not do the same for their mothers. The images that portray the relationship between doctors and nurses are also significant. Dr. Courtland stands for the oppressive masculinity inherent in the medical profession. All these images and others are encoded in Welty’s feminine discourse in order to question the masculine claims of patriarchal society. Therefore, Laurel’s rejection of her mother’s breadboard is a sign of her rejection of the past and its chivalric nature. Eudora Welty’s novel The Optimist’s Daughter, has deliberately and skillfully constructed her work uponsigns, symbols, and images that are relevant to the experiential realm of women. Welty is systematic and consistent in employing certain tactics whereby she disrupts the masculine narrative and succeeds in enacting a feminine consciousness which resists the patriarchal tradition and, instead, embraces a stance by which the relationshipbetween the feminine and the masculine can reinitiate society in the cycle of rebirth.REFERENCESBiederman, Hans. Dictionary of Symbolism. Trans. James Herbert. New York:Facts On File, 1992.Brantley, Will. Feminine Sense in Southern Memoir. Jackson: U of Mississippi P,1993.Champion, Laurie, ed. The Critical Response to Eudora Welty’sFiction.Westport: Greenwood, 1994.Vande Kieft, Ruth M. Eudora Welty. New York: ~layne Publishers, Incorporated, 1962Welty, Eudora. The Optimist’s Daughter. New York: Random, 1972.Welty, Eudora . The Eye of the Story: Selected essays and Reviews, New York: Vintage Books, 1979.Welty, Eudora . One Writer’s Beginnings, Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1984.Feminine Consciousness in Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s DaughterK.Sankari, Research Scholar, AVVM Sri Pushpam College (Autonomous), PoondiDr.R.Shanthi, Associate Professor in English, AVVM Sri Pushpam College (Auto.), Poondi.ABSTRACTEudora Welty resists any critical attempt to tie her or her works to any feminist agenda, her works are full of feminist issues.Welty creates a narrative discourse which is in opposition to the mainstream male discourse. Even though Welty dismisses the works of feminist theorist, she commits herself to the paradigms and the norms of feminine fiction where she enacts a feminine consciousness that constantly disrupts and challenges the stereotypes and the inherited assumptions of the masculine narrative. Welty’s discourse is stylistically patterned to convey the specificity of women’s experience. The stylistic patterns include Welty’s feminine appropriation of patriarchal myths and legends, her feminine perception of time, her appropriation of the weaving metaphor, and her idiosyncratic use of symbols and images. Welty’s unique use of symbols and images is a major feature of her feminine discourse. In the novel The Optimist’s Daughter, Welty uses symbolic acts such as recourse of memory, shift form visionary sense into tactile senses reflects opposition to the specular system, the feminine point of view as the focal point in the whole narrative. Symbols like flowers, birds, rivers and the breadboard and images of daughters comforting their sick fathers, relationship between doctors and nurses in order to enact a feminine consciousness and convey feminine experience.
Table of Contents