Friday, January 13, 2012

Day Thirteen: "The Burning" by Eudora Welty


Delilah is the slave of two white sisters living in Jackson Missisippi. When the story opens, soldiers have arrived with the intent on burning the house and we soon learn that one of the sisters knew what was coming but had stayed, certain that they would not be subject to the wrath of the indifference and cruelty of the war. But, when the house is burned and the sisters along with Delilah are left to make their way through the burned city, the city that others had already abandonded before the burning occurred, the story really begins.

In the midst of the devastation, Delilah is the one who persists, who continues toward some hopeful end even when the sisters hang themselves and leave her alone. As the story approaches its end and Delilah is face down in the high grass of a river bank, Welty creates paragraph after paragraph that took my breath. Delilah finds a piece of glass and after wiping it clean, she sees it is a mirror.

The imagery used of butterflies and dragonflies and bats and insects, buzzing life circling as if she were dying and they were all there to witness it rather than feed off of it was genius. There weren't any buzzards, only the buzzing, the steady hum of a life that she hadn't given up on yet. Her reflection in the mirror revealed what she could be and not what she was. Then she stands up and makes her legs take her away from the death the others had given themselves too. She walks into the river, determined to cross it and on her head are the treasures she keeps safe and dry and in her head she knows she's going to be okay.

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