The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty (1960)

Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty - cover

Description of The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty (1960) adapted from the 1972 Random House edition: Laurel Hand, long absent from the South, comes from Chicago to New Orleans, where her father dies after surgery.

With Fay, the stupid young wife of her father, Laurel returns to her former Mississippi home and stays a few days after the funeral for reunions with old friends. In a night alone in the house she grew up in, she confronts elements of the past and comes to a better understanding of it and of herself and her parents.


Simplicity and universality

The simplicity of the story belies its universal implications. This is a story of “the great interrelated family and of those who never know the meaning of what happened to them.”

The author shows us Laurel’s struggle to come to terms with her father’s death, and the life of the small Mississippi town he was so intimately involved with. In trying to deal with people who, like Fay, never care to understand what has happened to them, Laurel realizes that she too has kept her distance from a shared past.

Like so many today, Laurel has lived in a city where she survives by avoiding any real involvement with those around her. It is only the shock of her father’s death that leads her to new insights into the relationship between love and death and memory.

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The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty

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Large cast of characters and complex relationships

In The Optimist’s Daughter, readers will discover a large cast of characters and the complexity of their relationships, the rich humor and subtlety of dialog that reveals without describing, the wideness of scope compressed within the boundaries of a short novel, the wisdom and discernment that underlie the author’s vision of human life.

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