Women and Western American Literature

By Helen Winter Stauffer; Susan J. Rosowski | Go to book overview

Pioneering the Imagination:
Eudora Welty's The Robber Bridegroom

Melody Graulich

". . .in the best sense, of course, the western boundaries are inward and the West is a territory of imagination, in a recurring drama of the American character shaped by exigencies of place, then reshaped by subsequent generations who have had to rub the strangeness about the past from their eyes to be sure who they were. . . . Consequently, an exactly defined region is less important, we would argue, than the perceptions of the region, than the westering mind itself." 1

American humor, says Mark Twain, having read earlier western writers like " Davy Crockett," T. B. Thorpe, and George Harris, is not in the tale but in the telling; in western soil, humor is germinated from character and richly fertilized by the western voice, with its outrageous exaggeration and gaudy imagery. 2 Like their independent and inventive bull-shooting characters, western comic writers, seeking ways to recreate the West's imaginative force, have viewed conventional narrative as a prison. Eudora Welty joins this gang of westering jailbreakers with her tall tale of frontier history, The Robber Bridegroom, set in a wilderness whose "savage breath. . .covered the sky with black, yellow, and green clouds the size of whales." 3 Such exuberant images characterize Welty's narrator, undramatized but possessing an idiosyncratic voice. Like the characters who have been unable "to rub the strangeness from their eyes. . .to be sure who they were," Welty's narrator wonders at the West's liberation of the imagination. Her western vision moves Welty to search, as she says, for a " narrative truth that. . .the times themselves had justified," for a voice capable of testifying that "life was so full, so excessively charged with energy in those days, when nothing seemed impossible in the Natchez country. . . ." 4

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