“Why I Live at the P.O.” and “The Storm”
In a story, the protagonist is the character the reader follows and sees through their various trials and tribulations. However, many of these conflicts are not just plot-driven, but character-driven as well. There are various challenges that both protagonists of Eudora Welty’s short story “Why I Live at the P.O.” and Kate Chopin’s “The Storm” endure. These challenges occur both from without and within, revealing things about their characters and motivations that even they may not have realized. These stories both tell the tale of some sort of mental challenge with the lives of the characters. These challenges provide internal conflicts that the protagonists must resolve. Sister’s meltdown of jealousy that tears her family apart can be likened to Calixta’s impassioned, desperate affair with a former lover (Chopin, 2007).. In this essay, the comparison between these stories will be framed in the context of the mental challenges the protagonists experience.
The setting and tone of both of these stories contain a tremendous amount of passion in some form, which in turn informs the protagonists’ mental challenges and trials they have to go through. “Why I Live at the P.O.” takes place in 1940s Mississippi, a time of forthcoming social mobility for blacks. The tone of the story, nonetheless, is great frustration and anger. Sister’s suspicions and Stella-Rondo’s controversies lead to the family tearing itself apart, which is juxtaposed with what should be a nice family reunion (Welty, 2007). “The Storm,” on the other hand, takes place in 1989 Louisiana, a time of romanticism and a sense of discovery. The tone of Chopin’s story was very romantically passionate, full of lust and unhappiness. The tale of Calixta is very unhappy and desperate, mirroring the desperation in her character. The titular storm that takes place helps to also illustrate just how gloomy Calixta’s life is, and how desperately she wishes for that to change (Chopin, 2007).
In terms of the plot of both stories, they both follow a linear narrative, with the stories taking place from beginning to end. Sister in “Why I Live at the P.O.” is the narrator of her story, talking about her current situation and elaborating on her story. In the story, Sister grows mroe and more suspicious that her sister, who married a man she dated previously, had a biological child by him, but will not admit it (Welty, 2007). Throughout her attempts to investigate, she starts to alienate herself from her family, until eventually Sister moves out and lives at the post office (Welty, 2007). This story is told from a participant/observer point of view, as Sister is both an active force in the events of the story and telling the reader about them (Welty, 2007). In “The Storm,” the narrator of that short story is Calixta, who is perpetually worried about her family, the storm and her prospects for her future (Chopin, 2007). She is extremely unhappy in her marriage, and longs for something more. However, the temptation of an old lover from her past, who comes in from the storm, threatens to tempt her with infidelity (Chopin, 2007).. Her story is told from a non-participant observer point of view; the narrator is not actively in the story, but knows of the story, and is telling us what is seen (Chopin, 2007).
The true interest of these stories lies in the different types of characters found within them. In “Why I Live at the P.O.,” the protagonist is Sister, and Calixta is the protagonist of “The Storm,”; both of these characters drive the story forward, and are more or less the perspective by which the reader hears the story. While Sister is driven by her need to find out what is going on with Stella-Rondo’s daughter, Calixta is caught in the storm, let alone with Alcee and wondering what to do (Chopin, 2007). Welty’s antagonist is Stella-Rondo, and Alcee is the antagonist of Chopin’s story; these characters act in their own interests, sometimes in conjunction with and often in opposition to the protagonists. Stella-Rondo wants Sister to stop investigating her and leave matters to rest regarding her daughter’s parentage (Welty, 2007); Alcee, meanwhile, wishes to seduce Calixta while the storm is raging and her husband is away. There are foil characters in both stories as well; Mama is the foil of Welty’s story, as she is the one continually trying to dissuade Sister from her disruptive behavior (Welty, 2007). In Chopin’s story, Clarisse is the foil character; the unseen wife of Alcee, she is used as a source of potential guilt for Alcee as he tries to sleep with Calixta (Chopin, 2007). There are also stock characters in both stories; Chopin’s story has Bibi and Bobinot, Calixta’s family, who are the typical good husband and wife (Chopin, 2007). Meanwhile, Welty’s story has the outrageous Papa-Daddy and Uncle Rondo, as well as the innocent little girl Shirley T (Welty, 2007).
Throughout both of these stories, the protagonists deal with their own conflicts, many of which are mental in nature. The characters deal with emotional issues and ethical dilemmas that leave for them not a physical feat to accomplish, but a difficult decision to make. In “Why I Live at the P.O.,” the conflict stems from Sister’s jealousy of Stella-Rondo. Internally, Sister feels unloved and underappreciated by the rest of the family (Welty, 2007). She is upset that Stella-Rondo gets a much better reception than her, and even comes home with a daughter, possibly by the man that Sister used to love (Welty, 2007). This internal conflict extends to the rest of the conflict within the short story, the external conflict being Sister versus Stella-Rondo, and eventually everyone in the family. After a time, Sister gets fed up with the entire family for no one being on her side, and she throws in the towel, moving away (Welty, 2007).
In “The Storm,” the primary conflict is the tenuous connection of desire versus fidelity. This is evidenced by the struggle regarding whether or not Calixta should sleep with Alcee. They are old lovers, and Calixta is unhappy in her marriage; it is implied that Alcee is as well (Chopin, 2007). They know each other well, and the setting of the storm provides a suitable chaotic and romantic time to consummate their sexual tension. This internal conflict carried with Calixta regarding whether or not to sleep with Alcee is mirrored by the external conflicts. First, Alcee and Clarisse are at conflict, as Alcee wishes to be unfaithful to her (Chopin, 2007). Calixta and Alcee are also in conflict regarding whether to cheat with each other. An overall conflict of man vs. nature is evidenced in the fight to survive the storm which rages over everyone in the town (Chopin, 2007).
Both of these short stories carry at their core protagonists with deep mental challenges to overcome. Sister has to deal with her feelings of inadequacy and self-esteem regarding Stella-Rondo’s successes (Welty, 2007). At the same time, Calixta has to deal with her anxiety of being in a loveless or dead-end marriage (Chopin, 2007). In the end, Sister gets fed up and leaves the family that causes her so much stress (Welty, 2007). Meanwhile, Calixta and Alcee have sex, amicably splitting up in the morning (Chopin, 2007). The conflicts presented by the plot, combined with the setting and tone of each story, sets up these mental challenges as something to overcome. The characters are presented with internal conflicts that they resolve or exacerbate through their external actions. While Calixta acts on her emotions and manages to get away with it, Sister’s brazen suspicion of Stella-Rondo leaves her cut off from her family and living in the post office.
Chopin, Kate. “The Storm.” in Literature (11th ed.). ed. Kennedy & Gioia. Pearson Longman,
Welty, Eudora. “Why I Live at the P.O.” in Literature (11th ed.). ed. Kennedy & Gioia. Pearson