Eudora Welty's The Ponder Heart: A Romance Parody
Jennifer Lynn Randisi's book, A Tissue of Lies, explores several of Welty's works. Chapter III of this book takes a close look at the Southern Romance in Welty's novel, The Ponder Heart. In her essay Randisi writes that Welty's novel can be seen as an "ironic myth or romance parody" (57).
This idea of ironic myth or romance parody comes from Northrop Frye's definition of"myth as an imitation of ritual (e.g. plot)" (57). Randisi continues to say that
the events of the story comprise a quest, but one that recounts events
leading to isolation rather than reconciliation, revealed through what the
reader comes to know and what Edna Earle cannot see (that is, what she
has edited from her perceptions). (57)
The distance, or isolation, Edna Earle finds at the end of her quest, which is the telling of her and her family's story, is the alienation of her audience.
This alienation is more thoroughly explained by examining different elements of Southern Romance. These elementsare, regional myth surrounding the Southern character,
geographic legend [historical legend], family myth (here incorporating a preoccupation with identity in relation to name), acceptance of the authority of the narrative voice,
repetition of incident, belief in the ability of language to order chaos, and
the ultimate need to create a romance. (58)
Randisi makes a very well articulated argument that the novel contains elements of a declining Southern Romance through this "romance parody" (57) theory. She brings to light elements of Edna Earle as a "respectable Southerner" (60), and elaborates on the family myth, which also plays its part in the "respectable Southerner" (60) motif. She successfully demonstrates how the appearance of being a wealthy and generous family is important to the Southern Romance tradition. She then goes on to show that for Edna's story to be believable, readers (listeners) first must accept Edna Earle as a voice of authority; and then readers must recognize that by retelling the story, Edna Earle recreates the ideal version of reality.
Randisi helps Welty's readers read between the lines. She shows Edna Earle to be a person who will manipulate her language in order to protect the family name. "The narrative is, in fact, a composite family portrait taken over time, but one stylized, or edited, by its Edna Earle is, to paraphrase Emily Dickinson 'telling all the truth but telling it slant'" (77).