Welty and White: Childhood Innocence The words and descriptions that an author uses are to provoke a response in the reader. They are not just telling a story but are trying to show the reader their vision. In this case it is the vision and remembrance of the past and how it shaped their perceptions of the world. Eudora Welty’s “The Little Store” is about the innocence and simplicity of childhood, which she shows by her description of the neighborhood she grew up in and the trips to the store she would make. E. B.
White’s “Once More to the Lake” is a narrative about the peaceful simple times of a summer vacation at the lake that his family took every August. Welty’s “The Little Store” and White’s “Once more to the Lake” are both essays that effectively use descriptive words to draw the reader into the story. There is a similarity in the ways that both authors use descriptions of scent, sound and color to evoke fond memories. Both stories are about how the author’s went from simple childish innocence to the awareness of the reality around them.
White appears to have arrived at a point in his life as an adult where he is tired of the hustle and bustle of his life and remembers the fun and also the peaceful times he had as a child at the lake. As a child, he and his family went there for the entire month of August every year because “none of them ever thought there was any place in the world like that lake in Maine” (163). White has not found another place that comes close to giving the same sense of pleasure that he and his family experienced at the lake in Maine.
He wants to share this with his son so that he can experience the same sense of freedom that he had experienced as a child. White describes his trip and the arrival at the lake both in the present time and as he perceived it to be in his childhood. He shows the reader the many differences that have occurred to the area surrounding the lake. The road is now paved and goes the entire way to the cabin. Before, the road was a bumpy dirt road that used to stop by the store.
It used to be that the arrival at the lake was a cause for celebration, and the “neighbors” would help you unload and take your bags to your cabin. Now, with the pavement going all the way to the cabins, he feels like he is sneaking in. He notices that while some things have changed a great many have stayed the same, the cabins appear to be the same, the lake looks the same and the air smells the same, even the trees seem to be the same, only a little bigger (163-65). The feeling of sameness is causing White to feel a sense of deja vu.
That first morning as he wakes up he hears his son get up and quietly go outside, he remembers as a boy waking up first, getting up and going outside before everyone else. The memories keep returning and he has trouble in remembering who the father is and who the child is. As he and his son go fishing a dragonfly lands on his fishing pole, and he recalls another dragonfly on his fishing pole as a boy. When he had that memory as he was fishing with his son, he had the feeling that he was his father and that his son was he, because the same events had happened to him as a child.
Throughout the story the perception of who is the child keeps changing as White’s memories super-impose themselves over what is happening in the present, I would be in the middle of some simple act, picking up a bait box, laying down a table fork or saying something, and suddenly it would be not I but my father who was saying the words and making the gesture. It gave me a creepy sensation. (163) The feeling that nothing had changed was reinforced by the boats appearing to be the same ones as when he was a child, they even had the same broken parts and the same dirt on the floor (of the boats).
In the beginning, White’s sense of time not passing is due in part because the basic features of the lake and the woods seem to still be the same. However, the uncertainty of self that he goes through is proof of the reality that changes have occurred and that he is a unique person, he is not his son, at the start of life, nor is he his father who has passed away, he is somebody who is midway on the trail to his demise. The reader can almost see the lake, and smell the water as if they were there. The way the old wooden cabin looked and smelled; the feel of the breeze brought back many memories for him (164).
In Welty’s story, the Little Store plays a pivotal role. In this period, Jackson, Mississippi was small, almost rural, and you were able to have a cow in your backyard, which they did. It was very near the country. It was a time when people had milk and groceries delivered, when farmers would drive into town to sell their “plenty. ” (155), this was truly a time of innocence. Welty does not remember her mother ever going into a grocery store. She recalls that her mother milked the cow herself and cooked all of the meals for her family. Her mother felt that she kept a well-stocked itchen but occasionally she would run out of something, a lemon, or bread, and would send Welty or her brothers to the little store to get that item (155). A chance to go to the store was an event that they anticipated with much excitement. All their mother would have to say was; “Quick! Who’d like to run to the Little Store for me? ”(155). Having the chance of a trip to the store was an opportunity for adventure. Welty and her brothers knew that when their mother counted out and gave them the change to buy what she needed that there would be money left over.
There was always money left over, usually a nickel, and with that they could buy whatever caught their eye in the store. She knew the landscape of the sidewalk the entire way to the store, she had spent many days jumping rope, skating, playing jacks and hopscotch on that very same sidewalk. She passed the same houses along the way, the one where three teenage girls lived who played music and practiced their dancing with each other, the house where the school principle lived, and the house at the corner where a boy named Lindsey lived. Lindsey had been sick with the flu at the same time that Welty had been ill (156).
The descriptive diction used helped the reader get a feel for what was going on and they could imagine the scents and the imagery created. Running in out of the sun, you met what seemed total obscurity inside. There were almost tangible smells – licorice recently sucked in a child’s cheek, dill pickle brine that had leaked through a paper sack in a fresh trail across the wooden floor, ammonia-loaded ice that had been hoisted from wet croker sacks and slammed in to the icebox with its sweet butter at the door, and perhaps the smell of still-untrapped mice. 155) Welty is sharing with the reader how it felt when she would go into the store, how it looked and felt. How the darkness of the store compared to the brightness outside. She describes the sights and smells that a person would experience upon entering and walking around the store. Welty comes to the realization or rather has an epiphany towards the end of the story. There had been some kind of tragic and violent event that had happened to the people who owned and lived above the store.
Welty was never told exactly what happened she just knows that they are the only people whose lives intersected with hers that had simply vanished. Her parents told her that they would tell her someday when she was older. Up until that time, she had not considered that the man who ran the store had a life outside of the store and that he might possibly have a family of his own. They were a part of the store and had always been there. That was their only objective to their existence in her mind and of the mind of all the other children who went to the store. She does not recall seeing any adults other than Mr.
Sessions and the lady in the back of the store who worked with him, although they both wore the same eyeshades on their heads, held with elastic bands (159). She never wondered about them, they were just a part of the store. The store was the realm of the children. It was a magical and enchanted place. Both Welty and White come to a realization at the end of their stories that there is a definite point of time that marks the end of childhood innocence. For Welty, it was the day when she went to the little store and found a grown person sitting in front of it. It was not just any grown person; it was the Monkey Man and his monkey.
The whole time she was growing up, she had not seen the Monkey Man more than a handful of times. He was an itinerant gypsy who travelled all over and you never knew when he might show up or where he would be when he did arrive in town. Now here he was, an adult, sitting on the steps of the store that was her magic place, he and his monkey looked old and tired. Welty did not know how to continue into the store as if there was nothing different. At that moment, she changed and became aware of a whole other adult world. She now perceived that Monkey Man along with his monkey had aged.
Around this time is when the tragedy that happened to the couple who ran the store occurred. This also made her realize that there was more to her world than she had previously thought; the world did not only revolve around her (158). This is a reminder of that unexpected moment, be it the closing of the neighborhood store or simply a broken toy, which closed the door on a simpler time, and opened a chapter of a more sober one. She was facing the unfamiliar, and not comprehending the changes that have removed her youthful optimism and coming to terms with this new reality on her own.
In White’s case, at the end of the story when his son is going to join the other campers and swim in the lake after the storm, he watched him put on his wet, cold bathing suit and comes to a realization of his own mortality. He tells us in the last sentence “As he buckled the swollen belt suddenly my groin felt the chill of death” (166). By this White is seeing the cycle come full circle and sees in his son the power of life just as his father might have seen and felt the same thing. He can see his son making the same journey with his own child in the years to come.
The difference between the two authors is that, Welty tells her story from the perspective of the child she was. White is narrating and telling us his story looking back as an adult. The reader is able to experience the feeling of freedom that Welty had as a child and the enchantment of the little store. During her childhood, the little store was the center of her world. With White, the reader can see the lake, cabins, boats and surrounding areas. It is evident that the yearly trips to the lake had an immense impact on how White views his childhood. It was a time of excitement and joy.
There are many similarities between the authors in their use of descriptive words to make their stories come alive for the reader. The reader comes away with an understanding for the innocence and simplicity of the time and place that the author’s are portraying from their childhood. Works Cited Welty, Eudora. ”The Little Store. ” Seeing & Writing 3. Eds. Christine McQuade and Donald McQuade. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s, 2006. 155-159. Print White, E. B. ”Once More to the Lake. ” Seeing & Writing 3. Ed. Christine McQuade and Donald McQuade. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s, 2006. 162-167. Print