Why I Live At The Po Summary

Eudora Welty

Why I Live At The Po

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Why I Live At The Po Summary

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Eudora Welty’s short story “Why I Live at the PO” begins on the Fourth of July, when Stella-Rondo arrives to stay with “Sister” in China Grove. Stella has just left her husband, Mr. Whitaker, and is returning to her family’s home in Mississippi. Sister and Mr. Whitaker had dated for a short while before he and Stella were engaged. Stella is coming from Illinois with a girl named Shirley-T. Stella claims Shirley is her adopted daughter. The family is overjoyed to see Stella again. Only Sister suspects that Shirley is not Stella’s adopted daughter but rather her biological daughter. She questions Shirley, which angers Stella, who subsequently orders Sister never to ask Shirley about her parentage again.

After that, Stella wants to turn Papa-Daddy against Sister, so she tells him that Sister wants him to trim his beard, which has grown long and grizzled. He believes these claims and grows angry with Sister. He reminds her that he got her a job as the town’s postmistress, the subtext being that she is beholden to him. Sister storms away from the table, and Papa-Daddy mopes in the hammock outside. Their uncle, Uncle Rondo shows up in the hall. He is wearing Stella’s kimono and is out of it from overdosing on prescription meds. He goes out to the yard and Papa-Daddy tells him that Sister wants him to trim his beard.

When Sister hears Stella open a window upstairs, she seeks her out. Stella asks her to look out the window and tell her what she sees in the yard. She is embarrassed that her uncle is wearing the kimono she wore once while Mr. Whitaker photographed her. But Sister tells Stella she is being too critical, defending their uncle. She comments on Stella’s daughter and inevitable divorce. Stella becomes upset and reminds Sister that she cannot talk about Shirley anymore. Sister leaves in a huff to go to the kitchen and prepare green-tomato pickles. The kitchen is otherwise empty as the servants have been given a day off for the Fourth of July.

Mama joins Sister in the kitchen and scolds her for making the green-tomato pickles because neither Shirley nor Uncle Rondo like them. In response, Sister affirms that had she left her husband and returned home from Illinois with a daughter, she would have been given a different reception—her family would not have been so overjoyed by her return. Mama tells her that if that were the case, they would have welcomed her with open arms and open hearts. She also reminds Sister that Mr. Whitaker did not want to be with her. Certain that she would not have been warmly welcomed, Sister tries to convince her mother that Shirley is Stella’s biological daughter, but Mama refuses to agree.

The conversation takes yet another downward turn when Sister says she is not even sure if Shirley can talk and that she might be developmentally disadvantaged. Mama yells up the stairs Sister’s suppositions, which angers Stella. Stella has Shirley sing the song from Popeye the Sailor Man, after which Shirley performs a tap dance routine. Mama wants Sister to apologize to Stella and Shirley, but she refuses, so Mama leaves the kitchen to go and shower affection on Shirley.

Stella goes to see Uncle Rondo, who also turns against Sister after Stella tells him that Sister was mocking his appearance in the kimono, even though it was Stella who did so. He is angered by this and pulls off the kimono, casting it to the ground before stepping on it, pressing it into the dirt. Abusing the garment does not satiate his anger though, so later that night, he plays cards only with Mama and Stella. Then, the next morning at half-past-six, he tosses a whole pack of firecrackers—lit—into Sister’s room. After this rude and explosive awakening, Sister decides it is time to move out of her family’s home. She decides to move to the post office and goes through the house collecting her things. Among the items are a radio and a pair of vases. Mama does not want her to take the vases, but Sister says that if Mama wants to see them again then she can always visit her at the post office.

The family declares they will never go to the post office, nor will they receive or send mail. Sister’s response is that, without the service of the post office, Mr. Whitaker and Stella will not be able to stay in touch, which makes Stella cry. Mama becomes upset that Stella’s return on a holiday could turn to such bitter exchanges and sour the holiday itself. Sister takes this opportunity to claim that Mr. Whitaker left Stella, not the other way around. Sister also claims that she predicted this turn of events. Stella escapes to her room, and Sister hires a girl to cart her things to the post office.

Five days pass and Sister has heard no word from her family, but she tells herself that she is happy in her solitude. The town is divided—some in support of her, some against her actions—and there is not much mail to see to. Sister insists that even if Stella were to visit the post office and tell her every detail of her life with Mr. Whitaker, Sister would not hear her.