Academic journal article Studies in Short Fiction

Memory's Narrative Gossamer: Configurations of Desire in Eudora Welty's "A Memory"

Academic journal article Studies in Short Fiction

Memory's Narrative Gossamer: Configurations of Desire in Eudora Welty's "A Memory"

Article excerpt

In her introduction to the first edition of A Curtain of Green, Katherine Anne Porter admits a preference for stories like "A Memory," "where external act and internal voiceless life of the human imagination almost meet and mingle on the mysterious threshold between dream and waking, one reality refusing to admit or confirm the existence of the other, yet both conspiring toward the same end" (Welty 969). Considering waking and dreaming realities provides a way into reading "A Memory" because Welty uses the story to probe the texture and quality of and reciprocation between both states of mind. The story unfolds from the perspective of a first-person narrator who recalls her thoughts as they came to her on a summer morning in adolescence. Currents of desire swell in the young woman who lounges at a lakeside and ponders her inchoate love for a boy whom she has only brushed past on the stairs at school. Despite not knowing him and fearing his unknown, perhaps less than desirable, social standing, she loves him obsessively. This memory, however, yields to the overbearing and intruding presence of a family of bathers, who preoccupy her thoughts for the remainder of the story.

Memories abound in "A Memory," overlapping, mingling, and bleeding into one another. The narrator's memory contains multiple memories. Welty's use of the indefinite article in the story's title suggests a single recollection; however, her narrative demonstrates that strands of memory cannot exist in isolation, and that they meet, elide, and merge with one another in a psychic reservoir where the "strands are all there: to the memory nothing is ever really lost" (933). "A Memory" encourages readers to separate and disentangle one memory from another, yet attempting to do so only tightens the bonds that ensure that each recollection remains contiguous with those memories surrounding it and positively not singular or discrete. For Welty, it seems that memory consists of a web of joining and linking connections and associations, which together form part of a larger entity. Late in her career, she still appears to hold to such an understanding when, in One Writer's Beginnings, she describes her mother's mind as a "mass of associations. Whatever happened would be forever paired for her with something that had happened before it, to one of us or to her. It became a private anniversary" (858). Moreover, in the conclusion to her memoir, she defines memory in terms that suggest that the tributaries of experience empty into a pool of remembrances:

   the greatest confluence of all is that which makes up the human memory--the
   individual human memory.... Here time, also, is subject to confluence. The
   memory is a living thing--it too is in transit. But during its moments, all
   that is remembered joins, and lives--the old and the young, the past and
   the present, the living and the dead. (948)

In "A Memory," Welty exposes the gossamer of interconnected narratives that constitute a living memory. The narrator's first memory, her lounging at the lakeside, has another memory, the boy at school, nested inside. Further, a more primary, and, therefore, more disfigured and disguised recollection embeds itself within the nested memory. The initial remembrance of the lazy day at the lakeside, then, contains two interrelated reminiscences. Daydreaming about the boy at school triggers the most repressed and deeply rooted memory of the story: the narrator dreams of a family of bathers, who come to assume the position of her own family and who embody an oedipal scenario. The oedipal dream temporarily displaces the present desire for the schoolboy; however, ultimately, the two memories fuse together to form a single living narrative of love that accompanies and modifies rather than "destroy[s] the `recovered dream'" (Lief 343).

Lounging at the lakeside forms the focus of the narrator's first memory. Welty depicts a pubescent girl who feels threatened by the seemingly unforgiving austerity of the external world, which she processes through the frame that she creates with her fingers. …

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