Eudora Welty was a writer who sought to identify her native Mississippi in terms of her concept of place. By focusing so often on place, Welty often used the concept of outsiders to emphasize the nature of the place in which the outsiders have come to interact. The outsider characters in Welty's fiction help to define place and the interactions that place has with those that come into contact with it. In several of Welty's short stories, this outsider character takes the form of the traveling musician. The notion that the traveling musician is an outsider to rural Mississippi culture is used by Welty to emphasize two of her favorite themes: feminine control systems and the racial dynamics of the South in the early part of the twentieth century.
[...] This idea of the outsider as the traveling musician can be seen in part in “Lily Daw and the Three Ladies.” In this short story, the girl being controlled by the “Three Ladies” has had a romantic tryst with a tent show musician and has plans to marry him. Before these plans are revealed however, the initial descriptions of the tent show itself are curiously absent of any description of the musician. First there is the sense of Mrs. Carson's disdain for traveling entertainment and this general disapproval of traveling shows prefigures the ladies' responses to Lily's news. [...]
[...] It seems that it is primarily the idea that Powerhouse is in a traveling profession, as opposed to the often stationary lives of rural Southerners, that causes them to become embroiled in confusion. In both of these cases, the outsider character is seen in reference to his profession before he is seen as a character in his own right. The blending of ideas that the audience project onto the traveling performers is indicative of the lack of distinct boundaries within the traveling shows. [...]
[...] As has been shown, these particular styles of traveling entertainment had been in existence for many years prior to the time-frame of Eudora Welty's early short fiction. The fact of this duration of existence seems to inform the notion that the traveling show, like other forms of rural entertainment, was somewhat of a Southern institution by the early half of the twentieth century. However, in Welty's fiction when the performers of said traveling units come into contact with their audiences, the performers are invariably seen as being outside the Southern rural culture. [...]
[...] Powerhouse in motion every moment—what could be more obscene” (Welty 131). Speech and motion from a black traveling musician are seen by the narrator as the twin points of Powerhouse's obscenity. Of course, this obscenity occurs because of where he is and who comprises the audience marking him as outside the community. This racist impression of Powerhouse is not overtly hostile, however. More likely, the racism that comprises the descriptions of Powerhouse in these initial scenes is a passive institutional racism. [...]
[...] In Wittke's book, however, there is already a sense of the minstrel show as an anachronism. For a work published in 1930, this anachronistic context provides some idea of how the minstrel show tradition had been entrenched for some time by that point, and it thus lends credence to the notion that the traveling show, at least in this particular form, was likewise a Southern institution. The tent-repertory, or simply “tent is another form of traveling entertainment that began to fade at roughly the same time as the minstrel show. [...]
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