Jun 06

Optimist’s Daughter

Posted by Soliloquy in Braille

The Optimist’s Daughter is the story of Laurel McKelva Hand, a young woman who has left the South and returns, years later, to New Orleans, where her father is dying. After his death, she and her silly young stepmother go back still farther, to the small Mississippi town where she grew up. Alone in the old house, Laurel finally comes to an understanding of the past, herself, and her parents.Amazon.com Review
The Optimist’s Daughter is a compact and inward… More >>

Optimist’s Daughter

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  • At the time of her death, Eudora Welty of Mississippi was generally considered America’s greatest living author. Although Welty made her reputation with and is best remembered for her remarkable short stories, she also wrote a number of novels, including THE OPTIMIST’S DAUGHTER, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

    As seen in reviews posted here, THE OPTIMIST’S DAUGHTER provokes a very divided response in readers. This largely due to the nature of the work, which is character rather than plot driven, and which although quite short requires a slow reading in order to develop clearly in mind. Perhaps more so than in any other work, Welty writes “below the surface” here: the story itself, which concerns a daughter who returns to her tiny Mississippi home town when her respected father dies, is quite slight–but Welty endows it with a surprising depth of meaning, transforming what would otherwise be pure character study into a sharply focused and deeply moving statement on the nature of love, loss, life, and the passage of time we must all endure.

    Although written in a deceptively simple style, THE OPTIMIST’S DAUGHTER is the mature work of a master. Given the nature of the piece, I do not think it can be much appreciated by young adults; one requires the perspective of at least middle age to fully grasp both its delicacy and beauty. But once that perspective is acquired, THE OPTIMIST’S DAUGHTER should move immediately to the top of every serious reader’s list. Strongly recommended.
    Rating: 5 / 5

  • The sentence from this book that best describes it is: “Memory lived not in initial possession but in the freed hands, pardoned and freed, and in the heart that can empty but fill again, in the patterns restored by dreams.” What a beautiful piece of writing! I am so thankful for growing older and maturing. Having done so, this book can truly be enjoyed. It is about maturing, deepening, remembering, and honoring. It is about relationship with the persons in one’s life, with the past and with the future. Obtrusively thrust in the middle of all this is Fay and the Chisom family, representing all the possible ugliness, crassness, uncaring and unfeeling meanness of today’s world.

    I could write that there is little that happens in this book…on the surface, but as in all truly rich experiences, one has to go deeper and reflect to see the richness. After slowly enjoying the first 160 pages or so, the last 10 pages explode in complexity and interaction and meaning. Those pages comprise one of the finest endings to a novel that I have read.
    Rating: 5 / 5

  • Hearing this story in the author’s own soft, cultivated and yet mischievous Mississippi voice is the greatest treat. I liked the story itself because it was one of those things that you just got drawn into, like family gossip. You don’t maybe want to take the time at first, it’s hardly blood and thunder, but you just get to wondering why people are where they are in life. How did we get to this pass? All of sudden you find yourself in some little town because your father is in need of an operation , and then you are forced to be among people not your own class because your dad gave into his sexual desires at an advanced age, and the woman he’s married stomps all over the family memories and does the bedroom in hooker style. Later, the younger wife’s kin will arrive and collectively freak. And you (finally) take it all like a good, believing Christian, but only because you have the gift of irony and humor. And because any other response does violence to the memory of your parents. Classical virtues act like a giant levee against the red mud tide of blind pig-squealing relatives. Is it self-control at a price? Sure. God, I love this woman. May flights of angels send her to her rest.
    Rating: 5 / 5

  • It is no great surprise that Eudora Welty received the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for the novel The Optimist’s Daughter. Welty masterfully creates a journey through the heart of a daughter who loosens her grasp on the past while embracing the future after the death of her father, a beloved judge. The author uses motifs to reflect the past versus present theme, and symbols, and metaphors to add drama to the overall plot through insights into the characters. Eudora Welty uses the “judge and jury” metaphor through out the novel to keep the theme of the novel progressing. The metaphor describes Fay’s judgement of Laurel’s visit during her father’s hospital stay, and like wise Laurel’s judgement of Fay `s resentment towards Becky. The metaphor is once again used after the funeral when the garden club, Becky’s friends, sentence Fay to be the outcast of the town. This metaphor is the core of the novel’s struggle for the truth. Welty uses numerous symbols to aid her writing. The author uses birds to signify death, every time a bird enters a reference to or an actual death occurs. Black also symbolizes death and demons, whether they are people or inner thoughts. The black clothes at the funeral symbolize the morning that accompanies death. Welty also uses a breadboard in the last chapter that symbolizes Laurel’s love for her husband and her past. The motif of the mountains is the most apparent in the novel. Laurel’s mother Becky never felt more alive than when she was in the mountains. The mountains are where Becky McKleva drew her strength, hence why she wanted to return to her beloved West Virginia Mountains when she was on her death bed. The mountains are also the key to unlocking parts of Laurels past which aid her in her quest for happiness in the future. Eudora Welty masterfully created an insight into America’s growing trend of the second wife syndrome in this novel. Her motifs, metaphors, and symbols made her flashbacks into the past easier to understand, and aided in the understanding of the characters. Through the judgements of Laurel and the town Fay’s character is revealed, and in the end the past is resolved and the future is just beginning.
    Rating: 4 / 5

  • Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1973, this moving study of memory and the progression of generations is still vibrant and relevant thirty years later. Not only does it show us the ripple effect that one person’s passing has on loved ones, it also shows us the changes to society which occur as older generations pass away and new generations take their place.

    Welty’s concern here is with values–those traditional values learned by Laurel, the daughter of a Mississippi judge, from her parents; those learned by her parents from their parents; those imparted by the town she grew up in and the people who lived there; and those which Laurel has absorbed from her life as an artist in Chicago. In her values she is in direct contrast with Fay, the judge’s young second wife, a crass and selfish woman from Texas with a large, boisterous, and uneducated family–a woman whose only desire is to come out a winner. When the judge dies, Laurel returns temporarily to her old room in the family home, which, Fay takes great pains to remind her, now belongs to Fay. There, surrounded by family belongings, she is assailed by memories of her childhood, her mother, her mother’s final illness, and her relationship with her father. Her pre-occupation with the past is in direct contrast with Fay’s concern with the present and her future–these women clearly belong to different worlds, and only Laurel is capable of change or adaptation.

    Welty’s ear for dialogue is unerring. She reveals character, class, and education in her syntax and choice of vocabulary and creates conflicts from the smallest of details–a misunderstood word, an imagined slight, a presumption. The conflict is leavened by humor in many places, some of it dark, especially when Fay’s “no ‘count” family arrives at the funeral. The characters themselves lack subtlety, however, and the symbolism is obvious–birds and flowers are constant motifs, and in the final scene, a handmade breadboard assumes meanings for Laurel well beyond what one would expect for such a simple item. For those of us who have lived through the death of parents and the disposal of a family home, this novel has a resonance rare in modern fiction, one which transcends the period in which it was written and the southern location in which it is set. Wonderful! Mary Whipple
    Rating: 4 / 5

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