A Memory


Eudora Welty

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on A Memory can help.

A Memory Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Eudora Welty's A Memory. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Eudora Welty

Eudora Welty was born in 1909 in Jackson, Mississippi. She had a sheltered upbringing and was very close with her family, which included a mother, father, and two brothers. As a child, she loved learning and excelled in school. Welty attended Mississippi State College for Women in Columbus before graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1929. She also studied at the Columbia University School of Business. Before dedicating herself full-time to writing, she took small jobs at local newspapers and radio stations. In addition, during the Great Depression, she worked as a photographer for the Works Progress Association in Mississippi. In June 1936, Welty published her first short story, “Death of a Travelling Salesman,” in the journal Manuscript. Her subsequent work appeared in numerous periodicals, large and small, including The Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker. “A Memory” was published in 1941 in Welty’s first book, A Curtain of Green. She later published a novella and a second collection of short stories before publishing her first novel, Delta Wedding, in 1946. In addition to dozens of short stories, Welty would go on to publish five novels, including Pulitzer Prize-winning The Optimist’s Daughter (1972), and three works of nonfiction. Later in life, she would also publish several books of photographs, including Photographs (1989), which featured her photos taken during her time with the WPA. Welty received many honors throughout her prolific writing career, including the 1980 Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 2000, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She died in her lifelong home of Jackson, Mississippi, in 2001, where she is also buried.
Get the entire A Memory LitChart as a printable PDF.
A Memory PDF

Historical Context of A Memory

Eudora Welty’s “A Memory” is set in 1930s Mississippi and focuses on the “common people” of the American Deep South. It was published in 1941 in A Curtain of Green, Welty’s first book. The volume of short stories is often lauded for its depictions of southern womanhood, which stood as a counterpoint to the stereotypical representations that were coming out of Hollywood at the time. Her empathetic representations of Black people in a few of these stories are also often cited, including by Toni Morrison, who in a 1979 interview called them “not patronizing, not romantic, just real.” A Curtain of Green was published just after the Great Depression and during the Jim Crow era, a term that refers to a long period following the Reconstruction era and lasting until the mid-20th century, during which racial segregation was legislated through “Jim Crow laws” and the “separate but equal” doctrine. Themes related to race, class, and gender course through Welty’s writing in A Curtain of Green, which provides insightful and humanistic representations of the societal struggles that marked this period in Mississippi’s fraught history.

Other Books Related to A Memory

Eudora Welty’s writing was inspired by that of Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, and the first generation of Southern Renaissance writers, including 1949 Nobel laureate William Faulkner. On William Faulkner, published by the University Press of Mississippi in 2003, brings together Welty’s writing and thinking about Faulkner, including her reviews of some of his work. Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! provides an excellent example of Southern Gothic literature, to which Welty’s writing is often linked. Other Southern Gothic authors of the same time period include Tennessee Williams, Zora Neal Hurston, and Flannery O’Connor, whose short stories like “A Good Man is Hard to Find” illustrate the darkness and violence that often characterize the genre. Welty’s “A Memory,” was originally published in a collection of short stories entitled A Curtain of Green, which presents a realistic view of what life was like for the common folk living in Mississippi in the 1930s. Some of the most well-known pieces of writing from that collection include “Why I live at the P.O.,” “Petrified Man,” and “A Worn Path.” Not only are these the most anthologized of Welty’s short stories, but they are also excellent examples of the southern realist style that Welty is perhaps best known for.
Key Facts about A Memory
  • Full Title: A Memory
  • Where Written: Jackson, Mississippi
  • When Published: 1941
  • Literary Period: Realism
  • Genre: Short Story, Southern Gothic, Realism
  • Setting: A small town in Mississippi
  • Climax: When the narrator witnesses a man put sand into his wife’s bathing suit, his family reacts with laughter and chaos, and this provokes a strong emotional response within the narrator.
  • Antagonist: The short story has no traditional antagonist, yet the narrator struggles to come to terms with the messiness of reality, which is embodied most vividly in the family of rowdy sunbathers she encounters at the beach.
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for A Memory

Hometown Hero. Except for some travel to Europe and an extended stay in San Francisco, California, Welty spent her entire life in her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. Just like what she saw in Jane Austen, whom she deeply admired, she believed that her familiarity with this place provided a unique richness to her writing perspective. Her Jackson house, which she lived in from 1925 until her death in 2001, is now a National Historic Landmark and museum.

Teen Poet. Though she is best known for her fiction and essays, Welty is also a published poet. In fact, she published her first poem in the magazine St. Nicholas in 1923, when she was 14 years old. Other southern authors who published in St. Nicholas before going on to have celebrated literary careers include William Faulkner and E.B. White.