Eudora Welty’s “Why I Live at the P.O.” was initially published in Atlantic magazine and then showed up in her 1941 collection of stories titled A Curtain of Green and Other Stories. The inspiration for the tale came during Welty’s days as a photographer during the Depression. The image of woman ironing clothes in the back room of a small post office out in the boondocks worked its way into that part of the writer’s brain capable of creating an entire backstory from a singular moment in time.
Welty’s literary realization of that single moment in time took the form of crawling into the brain of that woman ironing clothes and resulted in a fully realized story peopled with real—if idiosyncratic—characters that is divulged to the reader as a dramatic monologue. The woman with the wrinkled clothes transformed into the appropriately named Sister. Told through Sister’s eyes, the self-involved narrator sees herself as the put-upon victim of her family’s favoritism toward her sister. Stella-Rondo gets a name; Sister is but a reference to that character. Such is just one example of the infinitely subtle literary devices engaged by Welty to transform what on the surface seems like the simplest of family snapshots into a profoundly complex examination of the nature of family dynamics in America.
Another subtlety of the story is that it is very much a distinctive portrait of American family dynamics as can be gleaned by the fact that it pointedly takes place on a very hot July 4th. Sister’s move to the post office is also a declaration of independence on her part, but just like America, the independence was not attained merely through its declaration.
Sister has a long, tough war to win before she can truly call herself independent of the oppressive effects of her family.