The Optimist's Daughter

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Author's Use of Symbolism in the Optimist's Daughter


In this study we try to explore the concept of “symbolism” in a holistic context. The main focus of the research is on the novel “The Optimist's Daughter” and the use of “symbolism” by the author of the novel. The research also analyzes many aspects including the “core characters of the novel”; in addition, the research enlightens the concept enlighetend in novel through the use of symbolism. The research analyzes the “use of symbolism by the author” and tries to describe its effect on the representation of story in the book.

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The Use of Symbolism in The Optimist's Daughter5



Author's Use of Symbolism in the Optimist's Daughter


Welty's The Optimist's Daughter (1972), her fourth and last longer piece of fiction, recounts the story of Laurel McKelva Hand, a middle-aged woman who returns to the South for her father's last illness, wake, and burial. The optimist's daughter illustrates Laurel's memory of Phil perhaps more than anything else shapes her life and dictates her thinking. Her marriage to Phil, at least as Laurel remembers it, transformed her shyness into loving responsiveness. "She grew up in the kind of shyness that takes refuge in giving refuge," the narrator reports her remembering. "Until she knew Phil, she thought of love as shelter; her arms went out as a naïve offer of safety. He had showed her that this need not be so (Arnold, 1982). Protection, like self-protection, fell away from her like all one garment, some anachronism foolishly saved from childhood".

Nevertheless, after Phil's sudden death, Laurel regresses to her former shyness and habit of offering her love merely as a refuge: even more disturbing, her offers of love--of the safety of refuge--seem to go out less to the living than to the dead. That is, Laurel's most intense feelings are directed not toward establishing relationships with people, but toward protecting any revisions of the sealed-away memories of those she once loved. Laurel therefore commits herself to defending--and never questioning--her belief that her and Phil's marriage was the absolute epitome of happiness. "As far as Laurel had ever known, there had not happened a single blunder in their short life together," the narrator reports her thinking at one point, and at another notes that for Laurel "love was sealed away into its perfection and had remained there" (Arnold, 1982).

In like manner, Laurel single-mindedly seeks to protect the memory of her father from any interpretation other than her own. "He's trying to make father into something he wanted to be himself," she says of Major Bullock after he relates a tale of Judge McKelva facing up to the Klan. Laurel finds the stories by the callers so threatening to the Judge's identity--that is, as it now stands in her memory--that she even goes so far as to think that, though dead, her father now faces his life's crisis point: "Here, helpless in his own house among the people he'd known, and who'd known him, since the beginning, her ...
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