‘The Whole World Knows’ by Eudora Welty

The Whole World Knows by Eudora Welty, 1949

The magic trick:

Bringing the words and judgments of the protagonist’s mother into the story at various junctions

This is the story where Eudora Welty takes all the themes she’s developed in countless other stories, takes all the magic tricks she’s employed across a decade of writing, and pours them all into one explosion. It’s an exhausting, often confusing, story to read. It’s occasionally exhilarating and ultimately devastating. Narrowing its magic down to one trick is a futile errand. So consider this one of several.

It’s the mother interjections. That’s gotta be the trick we highlight. Out of nowhere, the plot breaks open several times throughout the story for italicized interjections from Ran’s mother. She’s upset. She’s embarrassed by him. She’s critical of him. It’s probably only happening in his head, but it’s not enough to sway his decision-making.

Reality gets jumbled up in his mind. He’s thinking too much. Worried too much about what everyone thinks. He loses touch with the real world.

It’s a painful, difficult journey, and one that requires multiple readings for the reader to properly understand. And that’s quite a trick on Welty’s part.

The selection:

Bella, Mrs. Judge O’Leary’s little dog, panted sorrowfully all the time – she was sick. I always went out in the yard and spoke to her. Poor Bella, how do you do, lady? Is it hot, do they leave you alone?

Mother said, Where have you been, son? – Not anywhere, mother. – I wish you wouldn’t look so peaked. And you keep things from me, son. – I haven’t been anywhere, where would I go? – If you came back with me, everything would be just like it was before. I know you won’t eat at Mrs. Judge’s table, not her biscuit.

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