In the short story "Why I Live at the P.O". , author Eudora Welty creates a "grim comedy" in which what happens to the characters immediately seem to be funny but in the end cause them to have a destructive ending. Welty borrows from her own life experiences from being raised in the South to develop a story in which a comic character lives their own sad destructive life in the South. Welty "presents the distortions of life in the context of the ordinary... feminine nonsense-family life, relatives, conversations, eccentric old people- and a sharp, penetrating eye for the seams of this world, through which a murderous light shines". (Oates 54-7) Welty was born in Jackson, Mississippi on April 13, 1909. Her parents were from the North; her father from Wisconsin and her mother from Virginia.
As a child she was fond of reading and love writing. She had many pieces published in children's magazines as a preteen. She went to Mississippi State College for women for two years but then transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she got her B.A. in English. She then briefly attended Columbia in New York.
She then returned to Mississippi in 1931. After returning to Mississippi, she took up a job writing to society news for a popular newspaper, Later she took on a job traveling Mississippi as a "junior publicity agent" promoting in remote and rural areas of the state. Welty's writing is not easily categorized. Due to her wide range of talent and interests, she writes in both subject and narrative terms and has produced a varied body of work.
A majority of Welty's work takes place in the South during the Great Depression. Place is important in a story because the authors felling tend to be associated with it. Since Welty was raised during this time she can give the reader a sense of what really happened. In her stories Welty exposes human pettiness and looks at both side of family and community life, as dark as it may turn out to be at times. "Above all else her stories portray a wide variety of attitudes and peoples living in a recognizable human world of beauty and corruption, tenderness and hate, wonder and boredom.
The stories are concerned largely with single moments of personal crisis and move towards and explore the nature of conflict as characters struggle to clarify their choices, to come to terms with themselves and the world around them. Although a strong sense of an ordered community binds the settings of the stories together, it is the dark, inner lives of the characters that interest her more than their public faces. She is more concerned with individual self-deception rather than with social hypocrisy". (Jones 175-92) The stories concern is always with the human dilemma. They see deprivation as a human question, not about income and status but about love and loneliness. The way Southern life in the story is expressed gives the reader a personal look into what happened and how life was then.
The story is set in a rural town in Mississippi called China Grove. The family all lived together in the story, Mama, Papa-Daddy, Uncle-Rondo, Sister, and Stella-Rondo plus her new daughter whom sister thinks is adopted. From the story you get the image of a two-story home in a way a little run down. There is no air conditioning; after all it is set during the Great Depression before there was air conditioning. The family has a fun but for the large part you would open the windows to cool down the house. Stella-Rondo has it set in her mind it is cooler with the windows shut and locked.
The reader can tell the story is set during the great depression because the string of fire crackers was only five cents. There is a hammock in the front yard and everyone has gathered for a Fourth of July celebration. Everyone wants to get in the hammock before the day is over due to it being "so suffocating-hot in the house with all the windows shut and locked". The family cooks a lot as you can see by when Mama is cooking two chickens for only six people and Sister made some green-tomato pickle.
The entire family gets together and plays cards together, which now days everyone would be watching television. Welty uses the "language" of the South to pull the reader in and to make it seem as if they were watching this while you were there. If she had been grammatically correct with all of the language then it would take away from the story making it feel as if it were elsewhere. In the story you got the feeling as if it was a dimly light house or a little dirty and like it was in the deep-south but if the southern dialect had not been used this would not be the feeling. The characters in "Why I live at the P.O". all have there own personal traits that set them out from one another. Sister has a sense of childishness and is very petty.
She is fighting with her family which subsequently leads her to leave the family home and move in at the post office. Throughout the story she bickers and fights with everyone over seemingly meaningless things. Such as the name calling and making a point to take the radio that was given to her, that was previously Stella-Rondo's, in front of the entire family. Sister feels that since her sister has returned home after separating from her husband that her sister has turned the entire family against her. Stella-Rondo has returned home and since that has happened she has lied to everyone about who said what during conversations between herself and sister. She said something to Papa-Daddy who is Mama's father about him cutting off his bread and said sister wanted him to so now he dislikes sister.
Stella-Rondo also said something to Uncle-Rondo about the Kimono he wore and Stella-Rondo also told him Sister said she disliked it which then he tore it of and was made at her also. After Sister moved into the P.O. with everything she could lay claim to the family never came to visit. They would not even come to mail a letter. In all the entire family was petty.
They argued and did things that they knew would upset the others. This story is a sort of "grim comedy". Welty introduces you to the characters making it seem as if everything is fine and dandy but she causes them to think within themselves to figure out what to do with what the problems they encounter. The characters are tragic figures. The characters have a sense of "dullness, bitterness, rancor and self-pity".
Welty's stories offer a wide "range of mood, pace and tone" (Porter xi-xx ). In many of her stories she limits herself to one town or one state which she is acquainted with. Her characters have a funny surface and community image but a destructive personal life which in the end leads to their destruction. Welty has borrowed from her own experience to create these unique characters.