Here are some links for additional background and information:
Attached are several analyses of Eudora Welty and The Optimist’s Daughter, along with Discussion Questions, Book Review and an Author Interview.
Coming up, we have the following titles to look forward to reading:
Thursday, December 8th – The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
Thursday, January 12th – The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester
Thursday, February 9th – Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Thursday, March 8th – Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
Thursday, April 12th – One Book/One Marin selection (to be announced)
Thanks for reading with us. I look forward to seeing you at the Fairfax Library.
Beth Bailey-GatesFriends of the Fairfax Library
The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty
1. What was your impression of Fay? Did she have any redeeming features? Did you feel sorry for her?
2. What sort of person was Laurel? Did your feelings about her change throughout the novel?
3. Were there any similarities between Fay and Laurel?
4. Welty reports that her father was an “optimist,” but that her mother was the more daring individual of the two. The critic Jay Tolson calls Welty a “necessary optimist,” one who has a tough-minded view of experience, but who also has a “credible optimism.” Does this biographical information shed any light on the novel? What does the term “optimist” mean in the novel? Does the novel ultimately have an “optimistic” vision or is the term ironic? What is Laurel’s vision of experience as the novel ends?
5. In Part 2 of One Writer’s Beginnings, Welty describes summer trips to West Virginia and discusses her mother’s youthful years there. To what extent does this autobiographical information inform The Optimist’s Daughter?
6. Discuss the characterization of Fay, Judge McKelva’s new wife? What values does she represent? Why might the Judge have married her? What did he see in here that others did not? Do her differences from Becky point to a key reason?
7. Why has Fay married the Judge? Is she merely a gold digger? How does Laurel respond to Fay? How do other characters in the novel respond to her? Why?
8. What is the cause of the Judge’s death? Is Laurel right to hold Fay responsible? If so, why does she take so long to speak to Fay about the death?
9. The novel’s opening section is set during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. How important is this setting? How do Laurel and Fay respond to Mardi Gras and to the revelers costumed as Death and the Medusa?
10. The bridesmaids from Laurel’s wedding greet her at the Mt. Salus train station and still call themselves the bridesmaids. What does this title tell us about Mt. Salus and Laurel’s friends? How does Laurel seem to be different from her old friends?
11. Has Laurel throughout most of the novel kept the past in a silver frame, a set piece which does not threaten her? Does her night alone in her parents’ house bring her a more complex vision of the past? Does she learn that the past is subject to our changing, evolving understanding of it?
12. Discuss Laurel’s memories of her husband Philip, of their wedding journey, of the breadboard he made for her mother. What is the significance of the confluence of rivers, birds, lives that she and Philip see from the train bound to Mt. Salus? Why is the breadboard important to Laurel, and why does she leave Mt. Salus without it? How do these memories fit into the thematic structure of the novel?
13. The episode with the bird in the house receives a great deal of emphasis in the novel. The bird drives Laurel into the room where her mother’s letters are stored; the bird remains in the house the next morning when Mr. Cheek arrives, and Missouri comments on the bird when Laurel finally manages to set it free outside. What seems to be the thematic import of this episode?
14. In what other ways do references to birds underscore the book’s themes?
15. Chestina Welty was an ardent gardener and dearly loved her rose garden. The character Becky McKelva is like Chestina in this regard. And in the novel Laurel discusses a rose known as Becky’s Climber. Does that rose seem symbolic in any ways?
16. Discuss Welty’s portrait of Mt. Salus, Mississippi, of its class structure, its changes over time, and its racial dynamic. Who are the members of its white upper class? Of the white lower classes? What sort of relationship do they have with Missouri, the McKelva’s African American maid? How has Mt. Salus changed from the time of Laurel’s marriage to the time of her father’s death?
17. How does The Optimist's Daughter reflect the social issues of the late 60s?