Eudora Welty's The Ponder Heart: A Southern Journey

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Eudora Welty's The Ponder Heart: A Southern Journey

Imagine that while you're traveling in the South, you develop car trouble in the small town of Clay, Mississippi. You find a room at the Beulah Hotel, an old establishment that sits downtown right across the street from the courthouse. After you check in, it becomes clear to you that the Beulah doesn't get many guests these days; in fact, you're the first person even to enter the building in three days. Almost immediately you become the target of Edna Earle Ponder, the hotel's proprietor, who is eager to talk. You try to escape with a book, but Edna Earle will have none of that. She goes so far as to tell you, "And listen; if you read, you'll put your eyes out. Let's just talk." Even at this early stage of the game, you know who's going to do all the talking, don't you?

What's more, Edna Earle lets you know right off the bat that she's "sizing you up," but she then launches into a story that will captivate you and keep you laughing all the while. To be sure, you'll learn a great deal more than you'd expect about Edna Earle, the rest of the Ponder family, and many other inhabitants of Clay.

What a yarn it is that Edna Earle tells in Eudora Welty's The Ponder Heart. Her story revolves around the escapades of her Uncle Daniel, but in hearing about him, you'll hear—through Edna Earle's incessant gossip—almost all there is to know about the way the rest of the town behaves.

"[Edna Earle] assumes you want to know everything about everybody in town, and starting on that basis, she pushes you right into the middle of it," Welty says in an interview with Patricia Wheatley (Prenshaw 132).

You'll find yourself caught up in a comical story that gives insight into a way of life of the early-20th century South, told through Welty's rich use of Southern dialect and subtle details about social strata and social nuances in Clay.

Starting with the title and its play on definitions of "heart," you see and hear the story of Edna Earle Ponder's Uncle Daniel, whose main purpose in life seems to be to give things away (as we would say in modern times, "he's all heart"). Through Edna Earle (the name of many Southern women of that generation, taken from the heroine of the popular 19th century book St.
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