Eudora Welty

A Visit Of Charity

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A Visit Of Charity Summary

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“A Visit of Charity” is a short story by American author Eudora Welty, first published in a small literary journal in 1941, after being famously rejected by many of Welty’s usual magazines and journals. It centers on a fourteen-year-old Campfire Girl named Marian, who has to perform community service to earn points towards her badges. She plans to pay a short visit to a local nursing home; not caring much about the people who leave there, she intends to leave quickly. However, she soon gets pulled into a conversation with two embittered, sarcastic old women residents. Exploring themes of aging, bitterness, the treatment of the elderly, and the true meaning of charity, “A Visit of Charity” is not one of Welty’s most well-known works, but it has attained a cult following for its dialogue and darkly comic writing. It was adapted into a 2009 short film.

“A Visit of Charity” begins on a cold morning, as Marian, a girl of fourteen, gets off the bus at the Old Ladies’ Home. After admiring the day, she walks into the building carrying a potted plant. She tells the nurse that she’s a Campfire Girl and needs to pay a visit to “an old lady”, thinking to herself that this will only contribute three points to her score. The nurse, vaguely suspicious, asks her if she knows any of the residents, but Marian tells her that any of them will do. The nurse praises her plant and takes Marian down the hall. Marian thinks that the whole place smells. As she’s walked to a room the nurse tells Marian that the women live two to a room. When the door opens, one old woman smiles awkwardly at her, while another lies in bed, bedridden. Marian is disturbed by how dark and damp the room is, and compares living there to being trapped in a robber’s cave.

The mobile old woman is enthusiastic about the plant, and asks Marian if she’s come to be their “little girl for a while”. The older, bedridden woman says that the flowers are ugly and calls them “stinkweeds”. She demands to know who Marian is, and Marian says she’s a campfire girl. The old woman who took the plant says that one came to see them last month, and the bedridden woman yells that this isn’t true. She doesn’t remember. The two women begin bickering, with one saying that the girl read to them from the Bible and the other denying it. Marian, without knowing what she’s doing, adds “We all enjoyed it.” The first old woman tells Marian not to mind Addie, the bedridden woman. She’s sick and in pain. Marian starts to feel increasingly awkward as the women ask her questions. She’s asked what she does in school, but at the moment she can’t remember. The conversation keeps coming back to the flowers, with the two women arguing over whether they’re pretty or not. Marian nearly blurts out that she’s there for points, and the flowers count for an extra point. Reading to them from the Bible counts double. However, the two women aren’t listening. The mobile one is rocking back and forth and talking about how sick Addie is. The two women start arguing over which of them is sicker.

The younger woman talks to Marian about how she was young once, like her, but Addie yells out that she never was. She believes neither of them was ever anything besides what they are now – old and sick. It’s clear that neither one of them is exactly thinking clearly, and this causes many arguments between them on a regular basis. The bedridden woman, Addie, beckons Marian to come towards her, and although Marian is scared, she complies. As she leans in, the other woman tells Marian that Addie is only angry because it’s her birthday. However, Addie screams that it isn’t her birthday and shows Marian how she rings the bell to call the nurse. Marian asks Addie how old she is, and Addie starts crying. The other old woman mocks her, then asks Marian for money as she leaves, pleading that they have nothing. Marian leaves as quickly as she can, ignoring the question from the nurse about if she’ll stay and have dinner with them. She runs outside, catches the bus, and sits down, taking a bite of her apple.

Eudora Welty was an American and a lifelong resident of Mississippi, whose work was best known for itits exploration of the culture of the American South. The author of six novels and dozens of short stories which were collected in ten collections, as well as two scholarly essays, she received many honors during her life. Chief among these was her 1973 Pulitzer Prize for the novel The Optimist’s Daughter. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, as well as the Order of the South, and became the first living author to have her works published in the Library of America. She is a four-time honoree of the O. Henry award. Today, her house in Jackson has been designated as a National Historic Landmark and serves as a public museum.