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In his essay, "The Languages of Losing Battles", Mr. Bass contends that the form of language used by two major characters in Eudora Welty's Losing Battles, Julia Mortimer and Granny Vaughn, serves as a challenge to the "male-authored decrees" (Bass) found throughout the book. Julia's idioms are "teaching, writing, and books," (Bass)while Granny Vaughn, on the other hand, uses oral language to transmit family history. While Julia's province is one of ideas and abstraction in the written word, Granny Vaughn's stories are concrete, empirical, and rooted in actual events and real people. How these two methods of
questioning male authority are used by the two characters is discussed at length by Mr.
Bass, and this discussion comprises much of the bulk of this article.
The "male-authored decrees" challenged by the two women throughout the book
are numerous, and Mr. Bass makes use of only a few of these to make his point. In
truth, although his thesis is strong and well composed, most this article consists of a
rather opaque discussion of biblical symbolism, and how its various applications in the
novel relate to Granny Vaughn's "spoken folk myth." In Losing Battles,Julia has "written
her own apocrypha" (Bass) on leaves torn from her bible. This is used by Bass as a
prototype of written challenge to male authority. In some way, Bass contends, the
written word of Julia is a counterweight to Granny's dominance of the family, although
Julia's words must be taken for what they are, since she is not alive to interpret them.
While the written word "moves outward toward the abstract or conceptual and away
from the concrete center," the spoken language of Granny Vaughn and others "draws in
close to make the emblematic concrete, familial." (Bass) What exactly this balance does
for the furthering of the women's influence in the book is a question that seems to have
been left for the reader to answer.
Included in the piece is an interesting discussion of "banners and battles," and
the way that these images "mark the main conflict of the novel between local and
absolute."Bass uses the emblem of "Jack's 'torn sleeve that flowed free from his
shoulder like some old flag carried home from far-off battle.' " to represent a
convergence of a "banner" with a "battle".
Mr. Bass has taken a risk with his attempt to convince his readers that
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power extant in a balance of the spoken and written word of Granny Vaughn and Julia
Mortimer respectively. Although an "equilibrium" of this kind does exist in the novel, how it depends exclusively upon Julia and Granny remains unclear.
Bass, Eben E. "The Languages of Losing Battles ." Studies in American Fiction, Spring 1993,v21 n1 p67 ff. Expanded Academic Index ASAP. March 16, 2000.