One of Eudora Welty’s frequently anthologized stories, “Livvie” focuses on the title character, a 24-year-old AfricanAmerican woman whose old and ill husband, Solomon, lies dying in their home. Solomon had married Livvie when she was 16, and, although the narrator points out that he has given her everything he thought she wanted, he has kept her a virtual prisoner in the house that he has perfected over his years as a respected farmer. Wise like his Old Testament namesake in terms of owning and operating a cotton farm complete with his own field hands, Solomon echoes him as well in terms of the patriarchal biblical tradition with which he is associated. Contrary to the symbolism suggested in her name, the protected and naive Livvie has led a static existence lacking experience, vividness, and passion. Because she is trapped at the end of the Natchez Trace, which no one visits either on foot or by car, Livvie has never lived for herself but performs the role of caretaker, first for the white baby she tended before she married, and now for Solomon, whom she increasingly thinks of in terms of a baby himself. Livvie keeps the house spotless and prepares meals for herself (which she devours hungrily) and for Solomon (who loses his appetite as he draws nearer to death). She feels proud of her ability to maintain silence so as never to disturb her husband.
Livvie is associated not only with images of hunger and silence, but also with those of roundness and fertility, in contrast to Solomon, associated with images of rigidity and stasis. Whereas Livvie eats eggs, symbolic of life, Solomon rejects them. Significantly, the story takes place just before Easter and, in yet another ironic twist to a biblical story, just before Livvie arises from her deadened state, she is visited by a white woman, Miss Baby Marie. Miss Baby Marie, her name a variation of Mary, mother of Christ, and a reminder of the childish state of both Solomon and Livvie, literally opens Livvie’s door and causes her to examine herself in the mirror. Livvie, wearing the bright lipstick the white women wishes to sell her, suddenly understands—though she does not articulate the thought—that Solomon is dying and that a potentially bright future awaits her.
In an admirably crafted, tightly knit story replete with foreshadowing, Welty has prepared the reader for Livvie’s metaphorical ascension. When the young woman meets Cash McCord, one of Solomon’s field hands, the passion between them is natural, mutual, and instantaneous. Cash seems destined to cut the umbilical cord between Livvie and her husband, who is at once childish and old enough to be her father. The antithesis of Solomon, always associated with darkness, Cash has spent money on brightly colored clothing and tells Livvie that he is “ready for Easter.” Yet this story contains no villains: Cash resists the impulse to strike Solomon down, and the old man dies naturally, realizing on his deathbed his error in taking Livvie from her home and preventing her from meeting others her own age. The story ends in utter joy as Cash and Livvie embrace under a spring-flowering peach tree: The sun shines, a redbird sings, and Livvie drops the heavy silver watch Solomon has bequeathed her. She is joyously reborn, her life just beginning, and she youthfully ignores the constraints of time.
Categories: Literature, Short Story
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