In the short story of "A Visit of Charity" by Eudora Welty, a fourteen-year-old girl visits two women in a home for the elderly to bring them a plant and to earn points for Campfire Girls. Welty implies through this story, however, that neither the society that supports the home nor the girl, Marian, knows the meaning of the word "charity." The dictionary defines "charity" as "the love of man for his fellow men: an act of good will or affection." But instead of love, good will, and affection, self-interest, callousness, and dehumanization prevail in this story. Welty's depiction of the setting and her portrayal of Marian dramatize the theme that people's selfishness and insensitivity can blind them to the humanity and needs of others.
Many features of the setting, a winter's day at a home for elderly women, suggests coldness, neglect, and dehumanization. Instead of evergreens or other vegetation that might lend softness or beauty to the place, the city has landscaped it with "prickly dark shrubs."1 Behind the shrubs the whitewashed walls of the Old Ladies' Home reflect "the winter sunlight like a block of ice."2 Welty also implies that the cold appearance of the nurse is due to the coolness in the building as well as to the stark, impersonal, white uniform she is wearing. In the inner parts of the building, the "loose, bulging linoleum on the floor"3 indicates that the place is cheaply built and poorly cared for. The halls that "smell like the interior of a clock"4 suggest a used, unfeeling machine. Perhaps the clearest evidence of dehumanization is the small, crowded rooms, each inhabited by two older women. The room that Marian visits is dark,...
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...otted plant qualify as an act of charity. In fact, as an analysis of the setting reveals, the Home is inhumane in many ways. Marian indicates in her thoughts, words, and deeds that she is opportunistic and indifferent to the needs and feelings of the aging women. Welty further suggests in this story that pseudo-charity can destroy the very humanity it pretends to acknowledge and uphold. People like Marian acting either out of duty or for personal advantages have created the Home and the conditions that have made the inhabitants cranky, clutching, and unlovable. Marian left the women more lonely and distraught than she found them. This kind of charity is uncharitable indeed.
Welty, Eudora. “A Visit of Charity” Making Literature Matter: An Anthology for Readers and Writers. Ed. John Schilb and John Clifford. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000.
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