Keela, The Outcast Indian Maiden by Eudora Welty, 1939
The magic trick:
Opening and closing the story with scenes that present Little Lee Roy not as circus freak but as a normal father
It is easy to get spoiled by Welty’s debut collection, A Curtain Of Green. It’s just so, so remarkably good. “Keela” stands out amid the nearly uniform excellence as a bit flawed. Welty seems to want to say something about race but doesn’t quite have the same handle on this subject matter as she does on the rest of her themes, at least at this early stage in her career. (Twenty-five years later she left no doubt about her ability to address race relations in the South with the masterful “Where Is The Voice Coming From?”)
“Keela” is still a worthwhile read. It opens and closes with Little Lee Roy shown as a father. There is no mention that he is a great father but neither is there any reason for the reader to consider him anything but a typical American father of relative success.
It’s only when the white characters show up at his door during the bulk of the story in between those bookend scenes that the reader considers Lee Roy – or Keela – as a pathetic freak. For a story about the so-called white man’s burden, it’s important that the reader see Lee Roy as more than just a circus freak. The opening and closing family scenes do that nicely. And that’s quite a trick on Welty’s part.
One morning in the summertime, when all his sons and daughters were off picking plums and Little Lee Roy was all alone, sitting on the porch and only listening to the screech owls away down in the woods, he had a surprise.
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