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

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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 t...


... middle of paper ...


...eels about her. Fay, on the other hand, would be lost without her Texan accent. The Optimist's Daughter opens the mind of the reader to let him see the many reactions of friends and relatives to death and dying.

As Fay strikes out during the funeral it is easy to recognize that culture also plays into people's reactions. When Fay kisses her husband goodbye, while he was in the coffin, it is because that is what her mother would have done. It can be very hard to deal with the death of a loved one, but sometimes it is even harder to deal with how others are reacting. The novel explains that, "Memory lived not in initial possession but in the freed hands, pardoned and freed, and in the heart that can empty but fill again, in the patterns of restored dreams"(179).

Works Cited:

Welty, Eudora. The Optimist's Daughter. The Vintage Book 1990 Edition. New York.


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