Why I Live at the P.O.

Why I Live at the P.O.

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Many times we feel that our family is against us or no one else cares for us. We even feel there is favoritism or preferences in our family, especially among other siblings. Most of the time it is our immaturity or jealously within ourselves that leads us to these conclusions. Moreover if we neglect others for our own selfish reasons, or if we choose to see things only from our point of view we usually end up by ourselves, longing for the presence of our family. In Eudora Welty’s “Why I Live at the P.O.”, the main character Sister, cannot step outside of her own perspective and is unable to understand the reality of the events taking place around her, therefore making her an unreliable narrator.

Sister’s perspective is very self-centered and designed to manipulate the reader for selfish purposes. When the story first begins, Sister is trying to get the reader to see that “Of course [she] went with Mr., Whitaker first…and Stella Rondo broke [them up].” Sister wants the readers to know this piece of information so we will think she is a victim in the story. This is a way of getting us, the readers, on “her side” so we will begin to think like her and dislike the person or people that she dislikes.

During the course of the story we see many references that Sister is envious, even jealous of Stella-Rondo. Sister thinks that because “Stella-Rondo is exactly twelve months to the day younger [than she is] that she’s spoiled.” (108) A person exactly one year younger than another sibling is no more or less spoiled than the other person. Sister says Stella-Rondo has “always had anything in the world [she]wanted.” This seems to bother Sister because she thought she never got everything she wanted. “Papa-Daddy give [Stella-Rondo] this gorgeous Add-a-pearl necklace”. There are some benefits that naturally go along with being the younger sibling. This does not mean that Sister has to behave the way she does. True, she never references Papa Daddy buying her anything or giving her “everything” she wanted, but she has to take into account what he has done for her. Papa Daddy got her the Post Office job “through [his] influence with the government”, which Sister thinks is the “next smallest P.O. in the entire state of Mississippi”.

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This shows that Sister is ungrateful, and she is so set on thinking about things that she does not have, that she cannot appreciate the things she does have. She feels like she deserves more than just a “Bird’s Nest” referring to the P.O. job.

Sister not only feels that her family mistreats her, she feels intimidated by Stella-Rondo. This intimidation is actually jealousy in Sister’s case. She seems to think “Stella-Rondo tried to turn Papa-Daddy against [her]” and in turn, “Papa-Daddy tried to turn Uncle Rondo against [her].” Furthermore Sister even goes so far as to say “Mama, Papa-Daddy, and the baby all on Stella-Rondo’s side”. By Sister thinking like this, it shows that everything is about her. Sister is so wrapped up in herself that she cannot see the problems of others in her family. She doesn’t seem to realize that Stella-Rondo has problems of her own. She “just separated from her husband and came back home again”. With her she brought a child that “she never so much as wrote [her] mother about.” That in itself has to be embarrassing and traumatic for Stella-Rondo. Sister is unable to see this fact, she is unable to step outside of her own realm and realize that life is not all about her, that others in her family have issues of their own. In Sister’s mind Stella-Rondo came home and stole her place. When in actuality Stella-Rondo has probably just divorced and came home to get the support of her family.

Sister is so set on shaming Stella-Rondo that she will go as far as picking on the child to upset her sister. Sister starts to question the adoption story of Shirley T, and says “she looks like a cross between Mr. Whitaker and Papa-Daddy” upsetting Stella-Rondo in the process. Sister is unable to drop the issue of Shirley T because she feels like this is finally her chance to get even with her sister. She asks very simple questions such as “can that child talk….do you realize she hasn’t spoke one single…word?” (115) The previous statement show that Sister is very childish, she could have just dropped the entire issue of the child being adopted or not. When someone is not very mature, they will tend to stir up petty things, or find any way to get the other person upset, especially if it is a person they are jealous of.

When we tend to think of immaturity or jealousy we usually think of someone who is young and haven’t fully developed mentally. In the beginning of this story we would think Sister was a young child or an adolescent because of the childish things she does. She thinks Stella Rondo gets what she wants and throws it away on purpose. Sister states “when she [Stella-Rondo] was eight years old she threw it [necklace] away…. As soon as she [Stella-Rondo] got married…..the first thing she did was separate.” Welty never tells the readers the age of Sister but does give pertinent clues. Sister is old enough to work at the P.O. and has attended a “Normal school (Teacher’s College)” Sister’s immaturity and her inability to comprehend small things makes it difficult for a reader to see her as a college student. Sister thinks the reason Mr. Whitaker is not with her is because Stella-Rondo told him that she was “one-sided”. (108) Sister takes this to mean that she is “bigger on one side than the other”. What Stella-Rondo is saying is that Sister only has one way of thinking, she can only see her side of an issue. We know that Sister is not looking at all sides of the situations around her, thus making her an unreliable narrator. After Stella-Rondo returns home Sister states “there I [Sister] was over the hot stove,” trying to cook dinner for her family, when Stella-Rondo inconvenienced her by bringing her child to dinner without prior notice. For Sister to be a reliable narrator she needs to present everyone’s perspective equally. Sister does not grow or change during the story. Her thinking remains the same from the beginning of the story throughout the ending of the story. She starts out feeling that “everything was fine until.....Stella-Rondo …came home…”, now she resents Stella-Rondo for coming back.

Sister has finally decided to leave. She has made up in her mind that her family is turned “against” her and they are all on Stella-Rondo’s “side”. So she decides to move into the Post Office. She takes the “electric oscillating fan”, and the “pillow [she’d] done needle point on” (114) she even takes things such as “the sewing-machine motor [she] helped…to give Mama for Christmas” the “thermometer,” the “Hawaiian Ukulele,” and various other articles of “hers”. This shows that Sister does not really want to leave the house, she is trying to take a little piece of the home with her. After Sister moved into the P.O. she longed for her family to come see her. She states she wants the “world to know [she’s happy]”. It seems Sister is trying to convince herself that she’s happy, when she is not. She says if her sister would come to her on bended knee she would simply “put both [her] fingers in both…ears and refuse to listen”. I get the sense that Sister is wishing that Stella-Rondo would visit her. Until Sister can learn to step out of her own perspective and actually see the world does not revolve around her, she will never be a reliable narrator and she will always find herself alone.
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