One Writer's Beginnings

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In One Writer’s Beginnings, Eudora Welty explains in vivid and moving detail, by means of a series of memories, how she became a writer of fiction. Memory is her central theme; she writes that her memory is her greatest treasure, the place where all the events and persons of her life come together and live together outside time, as if they were the characters in her stories. The book is structured in three main parts: “Listening,” “Learning to See,” and “Finding a Voice.” In the first and longest section, “Listening,” Welty recalls the sounds of her childhood. She begins with her earliest memories of the sounds in her secure, middle-class home in Jackson, Mississippi, and moves through experiences at home and at school, ending with her explanation of how she gained control over her emotions and learned to think of herself as independent of her mother. Therefore, this section is largely about aspects of Welty’s culture that she absorbed uncritically, those experiences that became part of her imaginative life without her very considered choice. The second section, “Learning to See,” emphasizes her travel experiences of later childhood, especially to the homes of her grandparents. These visits took Welty away from Mississippi to Ohio, the farm home of her paternal grandparents, and West Virginia, the mountain home of her maternal grandparents. Summer car trips with her family showed her a wider world, and knowing her relatives from different parts of the country widened her sense of human possibilities and helped her to see herself and her parents differently. A collection of photographs in the book emphasizes these family trips and Welty’s ancestors.
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