Places: Delta Wedding

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1946

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Regional

Time of work: Early 1920’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Mississippi Delta

*Mississippi Delta WeddingDelta. Broad alluvial plain bordering the Mississippi River, stretching on the Mississippi side from Memphis in the north nearly to Vicksburg in the south. A delta is any land built up from the mud and sand deposited by a river; however, in Delta Wedding the term defines a culture as well. Life in the Delta is different from life in Ellen Fairchild’s native Virginia, different from life in Troy Flavin’s Mississippi hill-country to the east, different from life in Laura’s nearby Jackson.


Shellmound. Name of both the cotton plantation owned by the Delta Fairchilds and the sprawling plantation home that is the center of communal life for dispersed Fairchilds, such as George and Laura, as well as for Shellmound residents. The plantation is so large that little Laura repeatedly asks, “Is this still Shellmound?” Its fields have names, like Mound Field (with the remains of Indian mounds), East Field, Far Field, the Deadening (where the first Fairchilds to settle the land cleared away the trees). The house at Shellmound is home to Battle and Ellen’s ever-growing brood, a house of numberless rooms sufficient to shelter Battle and Ellen’s nine, along with young dependents like the handicapped Maureen and the motherless Laura and old dependents like Battle’s eccentric Aunt Mac and mad Aunt Shannon.


Marmion. Empty since its completion in 1890, Marmion lies beyond the bustling life of Shellmound literally and figuratively. Although near Shellmound in distance, it is physically removed because it is on the far side of the Yazoo River, so that one must follow the river to the bridge at the town of Fairchilds in order to reach it. It is part of the Fairchilds’ family mythology, the house built by Battle’s father just before he was killed in a duel of honor, the house from which George and his orphaned siblings left to be raised by aunts at the Grove. Now Marmion will become home to Dabney and her new husband Troy Flavin, the Fairchilds’ overseer. This house so removed from Shellmound symbolizes the exile that Dabney chooses when she marries beneath her.


Grove. Fairchilds’ former home, now home to Battle’s unmarried sisters Jim Allen and Primrose. Close enough to Shellmound to accommodate visits to and fro, the quiet Grove was once what busy Shellmound is now.


*Memphis. Tennessee city located at the northern tip of Mississippi’s Delta, Memphis is the cosmopolitan city of the story. When shepherds’ crooks and wedding cakes are needed for Dabney’s wedding, it is to Memphis that the Fairchilds look. When the family’s beloved George marries beneath him and leaves the Delta, it is to Memphis he moves, although it can never be home to him. To leave the Delta is to leave not just a region but a way of life, and Memphis symbolizes this life in exile.


*Jackson. Mississippi’s capital city, Jackson, is Laura’s home, located roughly fifty miles southeast of the Delta’s southern edge. In spite of the fact that Jackson was the author’s own well-known and well-loved home by choice for nearly all her life, Jackson is portrayed here as a faceless void into which the now-dead Annie Laurie dropped and out of which her young daughter Laura is to be plucked and given identity at Shellmound. Laura herself recognizes that although Jackson is a big town of 25,000 and Fairchilds nothing more than a handful of buildings in the middle of nowhere, she is the one who feels like the country cousin.


Fairchilds. Mississippi hometown of the Fairchild family is aptly named, being little more than a cotton gin owned by the Fairchild family, a store owned by the Fairchild family, a church and its adjacent cemetery where Fairchilds are buried. Located near Shellmound on the banks of the Yazoo River, Fairchilds is the site of the only nearby bridge crossing the Yazoo River, which separates Shellmound from Marmion.


Brunswicktown. African American community near Shellmound, home to field workers and house servants who move around the central story like an outer wheel. In the face of criticism for her portrayals of persons of color, Eudora Welty’s response was that her role as a writer was to hold up a mirror of the time and place, to reflect what was in order for readers to make judgments. If so, Brunswicktown is such a mirror. Often visited but poorly known by the younger Fairchilds, Brunswicktown’s inhabitants live lives in striking contrast to the Fairchilds’.

BibliographyCarson, Barbara Harrell. Eudora Welty: Two Pictures at Once in Her Frame. Troy, N.Y.: Whitson, 1992. Though intended for academics, Carson’s work is clearly written and generally accessible. One chapter is devoted expressly to Delta Wedding, and the introduction sets forth her thesis that Welty’s fiction includes opposed perspectives without reconciling them. Contains an extensive bibliography and index.Devlin, Albert J. Eudora Welty’s Chronicle: A Story of Mississippi Life. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1983. Devlin approaches Welty’s work primarily from formal literary perspectives and as a fictional re-creation of Southern life. Still, his chapter on Delta Wedding contains important insights. Includes notes and index but no bibliography.Evans, Elizabeth. Eudora Welty. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1981. Though somewhat dated, this remains the best one-volume introduction to Welty’s life and writings, with good general comments about both. Contains notes, bibliography, index, and a solid chronology.Kreyling, Michael. Eudora Welty’s Achievement of Order. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980. One of the best book-length studies of Welty. Focuses on the development of Welty’s fictional technique and growth of her esthetic sensibility and unique voice.Prenshaw, Peggy W., ed. Eudora Welty: Thirteen Essays. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1983. Reprint of selections from Eudora Welty: Critical Essays, 1979. The best of several available collections of essays, this unlike most, includes substantial work by significant writers. These works deal more with Welty than with Delta Wedding, but they do map out major directions for the reader.Turner, Craig W., and Lee Emling Harding, eds. Critical Essays on Eudora Welty. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989. Includes three landmark essays on Delta Wedding. “Delta Fiction” places Welty’s novel in the tradition of the old South. “Delta Wedding as Region and Symbol” analyzes the novel’s formal structure. “Meeting the World in Delta Wedding” explores its mature artistry and lyricism.Vande Kieft, Ruth M. Eudora Welty. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1987. A classic guide to reading Welty. The best starting source despite more recent scholarship. Analyzes the structures, the message, and characters, focusing on the mystery and duality at the heart of Welty’s fiction.Welty, Eudora. One Time, One Place: Mississippi in the Depression, a Snapshot Album. New York: Random House, 1971. Supplemented by Photographs, University Press of Mississippi, 1989. Both of these contain photographs taken by Welty while traveling as publicist for the Works Progress Administration during the Depression, and they provide illuminating insights into the materials of her fiction.Welty, Eudora. One Writer’s Beginnings. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984. A series of lectures, this work provides the author’s view of some aspects of her life and writing. It contains significant biographical and psychological details and includes striking family photographs.Westling, Louise. Sacred Groves and Ravaged Gardens: The Fiction of Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, and Flannery O’Connor. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985. Explores the impact of the Southern conception of womanhood on Delta Wedding and two other Welty novels. Discusses Welty’s fiction in relation to McCullers and O’Connor.
Categories: Places