Discovering the heart's truth : female initiation in the novels of Eudora Welty

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Simpson, Beverly Hurley
Koontz, Tom
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Thesis (Ph. D.)
Department of English
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The female characters in four of Eudora Welty's five novels, The Robber Bridegroom (1942), Delta Wedding (1946), Losing Battles (1970), and The Optimist's Daughter (1972), undergo initiation experiences which are significant elements in the content and structure of the novels. Only in The Ponder, Heart (1954) is female initiation notably missing. This study identifies and interprets the patterns of female initiation in these novels, showing Welty's refining of her understanding and presentation of female initiation. While Welty embraces certain traditional elements of initiation, which this study identifies in anthropological, mythological, and psychological studies--the loss of innocence (discovery of evil), crisis and confrontation, the gaining of wisdom however painful, becoming an outcast, yet reuniting with the community--she also adds her own elements regarding female initiation-an underlying tension between males and females or between females and a shadowing of the Demeter/Persephone (Kore) myth. In addition, her female initiates lack the mentor traditionally found in male initiation. Also reflected in Welty's fiction is the separation involved in female initiation in primitive cultures, mythology, and psychology. Not all of Welty's female characters in these novels undergo initiation; someremain static and unchanging, while others are at the threshold, eagerly waiting to cross over. While Welty's initiates make the dark journey alone to gain knowledge of themselves and the world however painful, their initiation does not signify the end of their growth.