This week, a new story, No Place For You My Love, by Eudora Welty, originally published in the September 12th, 1952 issue of the New Yorker. (Edited by William Maxwell, if you’re keeping track).
The style of this story is different from other texts we have explored. There is little dialogue, and the plot is simple. The emphasis is on the characters and on the prose, which is poetic.
There are two human characters (more on this to come), a man and a woman who are never named. The first two sentences establish them and what they are doing.
“They were strangers to each other, both fairly well strangers to the place, now seated side by side at luncheon—a party combined in a free-and-easy way, when the friends he and she were with recognized each other across Galatoire’s. The time was a Sunday in summer—those hours in the afternoon that seem Time Out in New Orleans.”
There is no further reference to “Time Out” or explanation as to why it is capitalized. It may be a reference to a real interval of time in the hot summer afternoon. In the context of the story, it does indicate that the story-time is a different time, set aside from the normal hours of the characters’ lives.
These first two sentences work pretty hard. They establish who, where, when, and why, and they raise a dramatic question: what’s going to happen to these two strangers seated side-by-side? Another important question is: what were they doing before the story began, and a third—what happens after the story ends? We’ll get to these.
The plot is that these two people are seated next to each other at lunch in a restaurant in New Orleans. They have never met but have mutual friends. Immediately, they are drawn to one another, not so much romantically, I think (more on this later), but in fascination.
“The moment he saw her…It was one of those odd meetings when such an impact is felt that it has to be translated at once into some sort of speculation.” The man feels sure that the woman is having an affair “with a married man, most likely.” He himself is “long married.” “Did he dream of making her disloyal to the hopelessness that he saw very well that she’d been cultivating down here? He knew very well that he did not.”
So the man thinks that his unknown lunch companion is intensely interesting and sad—hopeless, although he knows that he does not want to give her hope. He doesn’t want to “rescue” her.
She sits there, aware of him, not speaking. “It must stick out all over me, she thought, so people think they can love me or hate me just by looking at me.” I think this “it” represents her awareness of being involved in an affair. She is aware of herself, of how she might appear to him.
What follows, somewhat abruptly, is that the man tells the woman he has a car and proposes that they go for a drive south of the city, a place neither has ever been. The terms of this drive—their destination, how intimate they might become—are not addressed. She agrees, and they set off into a completely alien landscape. The precipitousness of this plan shows the intensity of their connection. It is reckless to drive off with a stranger.
One of the story’s rules that the above passages shows is that points-of-view may alternate within a scene. He perceives and acts, and then in the next paragraph, she perceives and acts. This is very different from a story written from one character’s perspective or even one that alternates perspectives chapter to chapter. I think the effect this provides is to focus the story as being about both of them, or about the relationship, if you will, they share.
A third entity in No Place is the narrator, and this entity is highly developed, not as a personified “I,” but as an omniscient being who explains and comments on the action in a very active and emotional manner so that the reader is presented with a strong sense of a storyteller telling the story, affected by the story.
“Of all human moods, deliberate imperviousness may be the most quickly communicated—it may be the most successful, most fatal signal of all. And two people can indulge in imperviousness as well as in anything else.”
The reader learns quickly that another of the rules of No Place is that the narrator is very active and breathless and nearly intrusive—”The stranger in New Orleans always sets out to leave it as though following the clue in a maze. They were threading through the narrow and one-way streets, past the pale and tired bloom od tired squares, the brown steeple and statues, the balcony with the live and probably famous black monkey dipping along the railing as over a ballroom floor, past the grille-work and the lattice-work to see all the iron swans painted flesh color on the front steps of bungalows outlying.” I love the “bungalows outlying” —what kind of bungalows? The bungalows outlying. This narrator has a florid and feverish quality that fits well with a story about being hot.
Of course, this narrator is very close to the character’s perspective. The above description of driving south of the city could be experienced by either the man or woman, or both, which would be an instance of free indirect speech, as everyone probably recalls. The key distinction we should look for (and we will) is whether the narrator knows more than the characters. This would separate the two. That quote above about imperviousness is probably a good example. The characters are not aware that they are “indulging in imperviousness,” this is something that an outside entity would note.
Another “rule” is that the landscape of the area south of New Orleans becomes another character; it is that central. It is described in great and wonderful detail, and we will get into it, I promise you.
Till next time.