Nathalie Ng is in process of writing her final assessment paper on Eudora Welty, during which time she reads and writes commentary on previous students’ Welty essays. This aids the process of finding a controlling idea or thesis that sparks the writer to produce a highly original essay of her own.
Commentary for Helen Liu’s Narrative Voices of Eudora Welty
In her essay, Helen Liu demonstrates some of the narrative voices used in writing: omniscient narrations, selective omniscient, dramatic monologue, multiple narrator, interior monologue, third-person limited and letter/diary entry form. These different voices “determine how much of the story and its characters the reader is exposed to,” and each have a unique way of expressing a story because of the different points of view. After analyzing some of Eudora Welty’s various stories, Liu has “reduced Welty’s stories to three levels of control in the information release of the narrator for the insights and emotions of the characters: tell all, tell most, or tell some.”
To start off, Liu gives an example of a selective omniscient story, “A Worn Path.” She made an interesting observation as to why Welty chose selective omniscient for this story, stating that “like a little bird perching on her shoulder, the reader gets a close view of her mien and personality.” Liu also notices that because Welty had a “keen sense of Phoenix Jackson’s weaknesses,” she chose this voice to better allow these “weaknesses” to shine through. If the story was told from Phoenix Jackson’s point of view, the readers might not have been able to see her weaknesses or physical characteristics, but instead would have been able to take a look into Phoenix’s mind and see what she was thinking. As Liu makes clear, what narrative voice to use is an important decision writers make – perhaps the most important.
Next, Liu examines the narrative voice used in “Livvie,” which is told in omniscient. Liu says that even though using the omniscient voice helps the piece in “a clear and entertaining way,” she felt that “the narrative voice felt rather unvaried and characterless since it did not reveal any of the character’s inner thoughts and emotions.” I agree with Liu on this, because as readers we could not sympathize with Livvie nor take a deeper look into Solomon’s past. Liu says that she thinks the story “would have been more interesting if it were told from a character’s point of view… because the readers can get a sense of the characters’ thoughts and feelings.” However, I think it the story would be more enticing if it was told from a diary entry form. This form, like first person narrative, gives the character a more realistic and human feel. I would like to know what Livvie was feeling when Ms. Baby Marie visited the house and asked to see Solomon sleeping, or how Livvie felt about Solomon’s death and about Cash.
Liu also looks at the narrative voice used in “The Whistle,” which is told in third person limited. This means that the narrator only knows the thoughts and feelings of one character, while the other characters are only described and presented externally. Liu explains that third person limited is a good choice “… since the main idea of the story was for the readers to feel the depressing mood and the pain and hardships that were faced in the story.” Using third person limited also reduces the cluttering of thoughts readers would have if the story focused on all of the characters’ thoughts and emotions.
The final piece that Liu selected was a story told in dramatic monologue, “Why I Live at the P.O.” The dramatic monologue in this story makes “readers feel as if they were involved in the story,” because readers can sense the tone in which the narrator speaks. Liu says that despite this voice creating a “perfect humorous piece,” readers will side with Sister in the story, because the story is told from a biased point of view. This makes readers unable to judge the right and the wrong in the story, because the narrator is probably telling the story to favor herself.
Liu concludes her essay by restating the three levels of control of information release: what she calls “tell all, tell most, and tell some.” Welty’s stories have covered all corners of the map of narrative voices, from omniscient to dramatic monologue. Liu says that Welty used different narrative voices in her stories “to her and the reader’s benefit.” No matter the perspective in which the stories are told, “all of her fiction pieces had a great flow and enlightened the readers with their exciting twists and turns. In the end, points of view are decided on one general question: to tell or not to tell?”