Eudora Welty, “Delta Wedding” 1946: Nostalgia, Family and Freedom

Eudora Welty’s novel Delta Wedding is a focused examination of the Fairchild family, members of an elite clan in Mississippi, brought together by the wedding of Dabney and Troy.  Through a variety of points of views, we actually get a fairly complete picture of this family despite the narrow setting and focused canvas that Welty works through.  The feeling of nostalgia runs strongly throughout the entire novel and like the characters the reader cannot help but come to the conclusion that family relations, family expectations, and family history is one of the most significant barriers to human freedom.  Only one character, George Fairchild, has proven capable of breaking out of these binds.  While most of the other characters are selfish, stuck in a rut, or obsessed with former memories, George is open and more projetural.  However, following all of the characters, their relationships, and their histories was difficult.  I am not sure if the idea of the novel is to make the reader feel as overwhelmed and claustrophobic as the characters seem to be.  We are existing in a feudal realm, where individual happiness takes a second seat to the family’s honor, social status, and pride.  It is actually amazing anyone is acceptable to bring into this insane group of self-centered and obsessive people (I almost wrote “individuals” but with few exceptions they barely qualify).  They even take on a similarity that works to separate them from everyone else.  “All the Fairchilds in the Delta looked alike — Little Battle, now, pushing his bobbed hair behind his ears before he took up a fresh drumstick, looking exactly like Dabney the way she would think at the window.  They all had a fleetness about them, though they were tall, solid people with “Scotch legs” — a neatness that was actually a readiness for gaieties and departures, a distraction that was endearing as a lack of burdens.” (102)

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The centrality of the Fairchild family (indeed, it is bordering on solipsism)  is suggested in the way the narrator discusses the black servants who surround the Fairchilds.  They are referred only to as “the Negroes.”  Even when looked at in a bit more detail, they are still given to us without fully developed identities that they can call their own.  The Fairchilds exist in their own realm and any outsider exists only to serve them (and to be wary of as with Troy).  They are, of course, heavily dependent on others, but I doubt many of these characters would admit that dependence.  “The whole family but Papa and Mama, and ten or twenty Negroes with us, went fishing in Drowning Lake.” (107)  Troy, an overseers of sorts, working with the field hands has a closer awareness of the black workers on the plantation.  It might be for this reason that the Fairchild’s are a bit hostile to him.  With a few exceptions they are in the background.  “All the windows were full of black faces, but the family servants stood in a ring inside the parlor walls.” (300)

Dabney certainly would like to escape this velvet prison.  “Sometimes, Dabney was not so sure she was a Fairchild–sometimes she did not care, that was it. . . . It would kill her father — of course for her to be a Fairchlild was an inescapable thing, to him.” (120)  Only George provides a clear model as he has saw more of the world, married against his family’s wishes, and was able to avoid even looking like a Fairchild.  At one point Dabney even idealizes her Uncle George  just by observing how he sat.  “She saw Uncle George lying on his arm on a picnic, smiling to hear what someone was telling, with a butterfly going across his gaze, a way to make her imagine all at once that in a moment he erected an entire, complicated house for the butterfly inside his sleepy body.  It was very strange, but she had felt it.  She had then known something he knew all along, it seemed then–that when you felt, touched, heard, looking a things in the world, and found their fragrances, they themselves made a sort of house within you, which filled with life to hold them, filled with knowledge all by itself, and all else, the other ways to know, seemed calculation and tyranny.” (121-122)

We are thus in this clear dilemma between the family culture (“calculation and tyranny”) and individual liberty.  What is clear is that in the world of the Fairchild’s it is not really possible to have both without basically becoming like Uncle George, who all see as a bit of an outsider due to his decisions.  Is there a solution?  I simply do not see it at least not for this psychopathic culture of the ruling class, seen through the eyes of these Fairchilds.  It is unfortunate that we can only observe this world through their eyes.  It made the novel almost unreadable for me.  It seems, I cannot even visit the minds of people like the Fairchilds without the feeling of nausea.  Maybe the families of the non-elite, less obsessed with boundaries, family history, or status, can be more open.  Delta Wedding is a good gift to give someone desiring to marry into wealth.  It will remind them that it is simply not worth it to navigate such psychopathy.

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One response to “Eudora Welty, “Delta Wedding” 1946: Nostalgia, Family and Freedom

  1. Pingback: Eudora Welty, “The Ponder Heart” (1954) | Neither Kings nor Americans

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