Barbara's Reviews > The Optimist's Daughter

The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty
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Feb 13, 11

bookshelves: classic, realistic-fiction

Though this isn't historical fiction, The Optimist's Daughter transports the reader back to a Mississippi town in the mid-twentieth century where social class stratifies the society and dictates behavior. Laurel, the daughter of a small town judge, has returned from Chicago to her family home because her father needs surgery for his eyes. The situation is complex because similar surgery caused the loss of her mother's vision and began a long decline ending with her death a few years before. Her father has married again, and his new young and callous wife Fay is an affront to Laurel. Being well brought up, Laurel attempts to make the best of the situation, but Fay is hostile and dismissive. In the hospital, Laurel's father seems to lose the will to live, and when his angry wife attempts to make him get up, he collapses and dies. At the wake and funeral, the two women struggle to control the situation and themselves, and when Fay leaves with her ragtag family for a few days, Laurel is left to grapple with who she really is and to make peace with herself. Welty is a master at creating a world in which small actions reveal the true nature of her characters. She recognizes all of the nuances of personality that come into play when characters must confront their deepest fears. At the end of the story, after a bitter confrontation with Fay, Laurel finally realizes that she doesn't need to hold on to the past to be happy. She drives off with her friends to the train station for her return to Chicago while Fay is left alone with only an empty house to comfort her.
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