Property as Feminist Dynamic in Welty's Delta Wedding

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Property as Feminist Dynamic in Welty's Delta Wedding

In our traditionally patriarchal society, primogeniture is the norm for inheritance of property. For anyone other than a first-born son to inherit the family estate is unusual. Even more unusual is inheritance by women, who in many localities were forbidden from owning property. Thus, the pattern of inheritance which Robbie notes in Delta Wedding is a significant departure from cultural norms. Eudora Welty depicts a domestic politic which represents a feminist dynamic departing from, yet not entirely escaping, patriarchy.

On the surface, women occupy a dominant role in the domestic politics of the novel. Robbie testifies to several ways in which this is true. First, in the Fairchild family "the women always ruled the roost" (190). Robbie represents the attitudes of traditional patriarchy by asserting that this is not the proper order of things. She "believed in her soul that men should rule the roost" (190). This appears to be an inverted power structure, in which the women are the dominant party rather than behaving submissively toward their men. Indeed "it was notoriously the women of the Fairchilds who... ran the household and had everything at their fingertips- not the men" (190). The Delta seems to be a woman's world which men inhabit at the beneficence of women. Another example of the inversion of patriarchy is the pattern of inheritance. Not only do women as a norm inherit the property, if this rule is violated "their brothers, guiltily, handed it over" (190). Robbie states that "in the Delta, the land belonged to the women- they only let the men have it" (190). She goes on to enumerate three generations of property transfers which prove her observati...

... middle of paper ... as to be all gracious and noble" (191). Thus, even their subversion of patriarchy fits into its mold.

The Fairchild women in one sense play in a different game of domestic politics than their contemporaries. They begin and end the game as mistresses of their own domains. They possess great power and are able to use it to their advantage. However, they do not successfully change the structures of patriarchy. Their power is exacted from, derivative of and implicitly supportive of male dominance. While they possess the trappings of matriarchy, men still exert considerable power. The Fairchild women successfully usurp many of the benefits of patriarchy through a bartering of roles, chores and property which affords them autonomy if not genuine equality. If patriarchy is a prison, these women have made their cell into a palace in which they are free to be women.
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