The Optimist's Daughter

The Optimist's Daughter is a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction-winning short novel by Eudora Welty. It was first published as a long story in the New Yorker in March 1969 and was subsequently revised and published in book form in 1972.[1] It concerns a woman named Laurel, who travels to New Orleans to take care of her father, Judge McKelva, after he has surgery for a detached retina. Judge McKelva fails to recover from this surgery and as he dies slowly in the hospital, Laurel visits and reads to him from Dickens. Her father's second wife, Fay, who is younger than Laurel, is a shrewish outsider from Texas. Her shrill response to the Judge's illness appears to accelerate his demise. Laurel and Fay are thrown together when they return the Judge to his home town of Mount Salus, Mississippi, where he will be buried. There, Laurel is immersed in the good neighborliness of the friends and family she knew before marrying and moving away to Chicago. Fay, though, has always been unwelcome and leaves for a long weekend, leaving Laurel in the big house full of memories. Laurel encounters her mother's memory, her father's life after he lost his first wife, and the complex emotions surrounding her loss, and the wave of memories in which she swims. She comes to a place of understanding that Fay can never share, and she leaves small town Mississippi with the memories she can carry with her.[2]

The Optimist's Daughter
OptimistsDaughter
First edition
AuthorEudora Welty
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
PublisherRandom House
Publication date
1972
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages208 pp
ISBN0-394-48017-1

Summary

The book begins with the main character, Laurel Hand, who travels to New Orleans from her home in Chicago to assist her aging father as a family friend and doctor operates on his eye. Laurel's father remains in the hospital for recovery for several months. During this time, Laurel begins to get to know her outsider stepmother better, as she rarely visited her father since the two were married. Fay begins to show her true colors as the Judge's condition worsens. To the distress of all who knew him, the Judge dies after his wife throws a violently emotional fit in the hospital and confesses to cheating and interest in his money.

The two women travel back to the Judge's home in Mount Salus, Mississippi for the funeral and are received by close friends of the family. Here, Laurel finds love and friendship in a community which she left after childhood. The warmth of the town clashes with Fay's dissenting and antagonistic personality. The woman from Texas, who claimed to have no family other than the Judge, is soon confronted by her past as her mother, siblings, and other members of her family show up to her house to attend the funeral. Though Laurel confronts Fay as to the reason why she lied, she cannot help but feel anything except pity for the lonely, sullen woman. Directly after her husband's funeral, Fay leaves to go back home to Madrid, Texas with her family.

After her distraught and immature stepmother leaves, Laurel finally has time to herself in the house she grew up in with the friends and neighbors she knew since childhood. During the few days she remains, Laurel digs through the past as she goes through her house remembering her deceased parents and the life she had before she left Mount Salus. She rediscovers the life of friendship and love that she left behind so many years ago, along with heartache.

Her visit to her hometown and the memories of her parents open up a new insight on life for Laurel. She leaves Mount Salus with a new understanding of life and the factors which influence it the most—friends and family. But most prominently, she gains a new understanding and respect for herself.

Main characters

Laurel Hand

Laurel is Judge McKelva's daughter, who is an only child. She is a widow who had been married to a man named Phil Hand. After his death, Laurel returned to her parents’ home because of her mother's sickness, before returning to Chicago, only to be brought back by her father's condition which is where the events in the novel begin. In the story Laurel and Fay have many arguments because of Fay's rude personality. After her father's death, the funeral, and Fay's unexpected vacation, Laurel returns to her childhood home. There, she reminisces about past memories, including those of her parents and her fear of birds before she comes to her epiphany about life.

Fay McKelva

Fay is Judge McKelva's second wife, and therefore, Laurel's stepmother. Judge McKelva met her at the Southern Bar Association at the old Gulf Coast hotel where Fay had a part-time job at the time. Fay is younger than Laurel. Fay's personality is not pleasant and causes everyone in the story to see her as obnoxious, self-centered, and rude. The other characters in the novel pity her. In the course of the story, we see that Fay is also dishonest, for one in saying that all of her family is dead. This untruth comes to light when they arrive for Clint's funeral. After the funeral, Fay makes a snap decision to return to Texas with her family for a short time before returning at the end of the novel to take possession of her new home.

Judge (Clint) McKelva

Clint McKelva is Laurel's father. Judge McKelva is treated for an eye illness; he dies after eye surgery. He is a prominent and well-respected widower in Mount Salus, Mississippi. Ten years after the death of his wife, Becky, he marries a younger woman that he met at a Southern Bar Association conference named Wanda Fay. After his death, the home where his daughter and first wife lived out their lives is willed to Wanda Fay, and he leaves money to his daughter, Laurel, who works as a designer in Chicago.

Becky McKelva

Laurel's mother and Clint's first wife. She died before the events in the story occurred, but through the memories of Laurel, she plays a large role at the end of the story.

Setting

The Optimist's Daughter begins in New Orleans, Louisiana. The beginning of the novel takes place in a hospital in the bustling city during Mardi Gras. After the Judge passes, the majority of the novel is set in Laurel's childhood home, in her father's hometown of Mount Salus, Mississippi.

Symbolism

The most prominent metaphor in The Optimist's daughter is vision. Welty equates the ability to see with the ability to understand. Both of Laurel's parents suffered from failures of vision. Her mother, Becky McKelva slowly loses her vision as she approaches her death, and her father, Judge McKelva dies while attempting to recover from a cataract surgery. Additionally, images of vision persist throughout the novel. It not only contains several characters who suffer from blindess or poor vision but also images of vision or the lack of vision. Laurel is constantly noticing curtains, blinds, glasses, and windows. These remind her or her need to understand her present situation and the lack of understanding she has for her stepmother, Fay. Although not physically blind, Fay has poor vision in that she lacks the maturity to understand as is evidenced by her insensitivity towards others.[1]

Web sources

  1. ^ a b Robert L., Phillips (1981). "Patterns of Vision in Welty's 'The Optimist's Daughter". The Southern Literary Journal. 14: 10–23.
  2. ^ New York Times
1973 Pulitzer Prize

The following are the Pulitzer Prizes for 1973.

1973 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1973.

Deaths in July 2001

The following is a list of notable deaths in July 2001.

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Delta Wedding

Delta Wedding is a 1946 Southern fiction novel by Eudora Welty. Set in 1923, the novel tells of the experiences of the Fairchilds family during a particularly unexceptional year in the Mississippi Delta. The novel's focus on the mundane and social life of the central South elicited considerable critique from contemporary critics.

Eudora Welty

Eudora Alice Welty (April 13, 1909 – July 23, 2001) was an American short story writer and novelist who wrote about the American South. Her novel The Optimist's Daughter won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973. Welty received numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Order of the South. She was the first living author to have her works published by the Library of America. Her house in Jackson, Mississippi has been designated as a National Historic Landmark and is open to the public as a house museum.

Eudora Welty House

The Eudora Welty House at 1119 Pinehurst Street in Jackson, Mississippi was the home of author Eudora Welty for nearly 80 years. It was built by her parents in 1925. In it she did all her writing, in an upstairs bedroom. Welty created the garden over decades. The house was first declared a Mississippi Landmark in 2001, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002, and declared a National Historic Landmark in 2004. This was part of a raised awareness of the significance of authors and literary life in the United States.

The house was restored by the Eudora Welty Foundation and State of Mississippi. In 2006 the house and garden were opened to the public as an author's house museum. The renovation of the house and garden is part of a larger effort to celebrate and promote Mississippi's literary heritage as a means of developing tourism to the state.

Jackson, Mississippi

Jackson, officially the City of Jackson, is the capital and most populous city of the U.S. state of Mississippi. It is one of two county seats of Hinds County, along with Raymond, Mississippi. The city of Jackson also includes around 3,000 acres comprising Jackson-Medgar Evers International Airport in Rankin County and a small portion of Madison County. The city's population was estimated to be 165,072 in 2017, a decline from 173,514 in 2010. The city sits on the Pearl River and is located in the greater Jackson Prairie region of Mississippi.

Founded in 1821 as the site for a new state capital, the city is named after General Andrew Jackson, who was honored for his role in the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812 and would later serve as U.S. president. Following the nearby Battle of Vicksburg in 1863 during the American Civil War, Union forces under the command of General William Tecumseh Sherman began the Siege of Jackson and the city was subsequently burned.During the 1920s, Jackson surpassed Meridian to become the most populous city in the state following a speculative natural gas boom in the region. The current slogan for the city is "The City with Soul". It has had numerous musicians prominent in blues, gospel, folk, and jazz.

Jackson is the anchor for the Jackson, Mississippi Metropolitan Statistical Area. It is the state's largest metropolitan area with a 2016 population of 579,332, about one-fifth of Mississippi's population.

Library of America

The Library of America (LOA) is a nonprofit publisher of classic American literature. Founded in 1979 with seed money from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Ford Foundation, the LOA has published over 300 volumes by a wide range of authors from Mark Twain to Philip Roth, Nathaniel Hawthorne to Saul Bellow, including the selected writings of several U.S. presidents.

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All American novelists who have articles in Wikipedia should be on this list, and even if they do not clearly meet any other criteria they should not be removed until the article itself is removed.

Winner of a major literary prize, even if the winning work was a story collection rather than a novel: The Pulitzer Prize, The PEN American Center Book Awards, the National Book Award, the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Orange Prize, and some others. (Note: The only Pulitzer winner for Fiction not on the list is James Alan McPherson, who has never published a novel.)

Having a substantial body of work, widely respected and reviewed in major publications, and perhaps often nominated or a finalist for major awards.

A pioneering literary figure, possibly for the style or substance of their entire body of work, or for a single novel that was a notable "first" of some kind in U.S. literary history.

Had several massive bestsellers, or even just one huge seller that has entered the cultural lexicon (Grace Metalious and Peyton Place, for example).

A leading figure—especially award-winning, and with crossover appeal to mainstream readers, reviewers, and scholars—in a major genre or subcategory of fiction: Romance, science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, western, young adult fiction, regional or "local color" fiction, proletarian fiction, etc.

List of Columbia University alumni

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National Book Award for Fiction

The National Book Award for Fiction is one of four annual National Book Awards, which recognize outstanding literary work by United States citizens. Since 1987 the awards have been administered and presented by the National Book Foundation, but they are awards "by writers to writers". The panelists are five "writers who are known to be doing great work in their genre or field".General fiction was one of four categories when the awards were re-established in 1950. For several years beginning 1980, prior to the Foundation, there were multiple fiction categories: hardcover, paperback, first novel or first work of fiction; from 1981 to 1983 hardcover and paperback children's fiction; and only in 1980 five awards to mystery fiction, science fiction, and western fiction. When the Foundation celebrated the 60th postwar awards in 2009, all but three of the 77 previous winners in fiction categories were in print. The 77 included all eight 1980 winners but excluded the 1981 to 1983 children's fiction winners.The award recognizes one book written by a U.S. citizen and published in the U.S. from December 1 to November 30. The National Book Foundation accepts nominations from publishers until June 15, requires mailing nominated books to the panelists by August 1, and announces five finalists in October. The winner is announced on the day of the final ceremony in November. The award is $10,000 and a bronze sculpture; other finalists get $1000, a medal, and a citation written by the panel.Authors who have won the award more than once include such noted figures as William Faulkner, John Updike, William Gaddis, and Philip Roth, each having won the award on two occasions along with numerous other nominations.

Nicholas Nickleby

Nicholas Nickleby; or, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby is a novel by Charles Dickens. Originally published as a serial from 1838 to 1839, it was Dickens's third novel.

The novel centres on the life and adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, a young man who must support his mother and sister after his father dies.

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The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is one of the seven American Pulitzer Prizes that are annually awarded for Letters, Drama, and Music. It recognizes distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life, published during the preceding calendar year. As the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel, it was one of the original Pulitzers; the program was inaugurated in 1917 with seven prizes, four of which were awarded that year. (No Novel prize was awarded in 1917; the first was awarded in 1918.)Finalists have been announced since 1980, ordinarily a total of three.

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The Goldfinch is a novel by the American author Donna Tartt. It won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, among other honors. Published in 2013, it was Tartt's first novel since The Little Friend in 2002.The novel is a coming-of-age tale told in the first person. The protagonist, 13-year-old Theodore Decker, survives a terrorist bombing at an art museum where his mother dies. While staggering through the debris, he takes with him a small Dutch Golden Age painting called The Goldfinch. It becomes a singular source of hope for him as he descends into a world of crime.

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