Eudora Welty’s The Robber Bridegroom Eudora Welty’s first novel, The Robber Bridegroom, is a combination of fantasy and reality while exploring the duality of human nature, time, and the word man lives in. The union of legend, Mississippi history and Grimms’ fairy tales create an adult dream world. Every character in the story has little insight to themselves and how they relate to the world around them. The antics of Mike Fink, the Harps, the bandits, and the Indians closely relate to Mississippi folklore. The blending of actual history and pure fantasy create a much richer form of entertainment.
Mike Fink was an American frontiersman who is said to have beaten Davy Crockett in a shooting contest. The Harpe brothers were notorious rustlers and killers in the South. After being felled by a bullet that paralyzed him, Big Harpe was decapitated; as the decapitation began, Big Harpe is reported to have said, You’re a God Damned rough butcher, but cut on and be damned (Appel 70). The head was put on a post to warn other outlaws. The duality in man himself is a strong theme in the story.
The men who fail to realize that man is a combination of good and evil are unable to succeed in the world around them. The Harps and to a lesser extent Mike Fink follow their most basic instincts to be frontiersmen. They are immersed completely in the lives they led and there is no other way to live. This inability to change is there downfall. The Harps are killed and Mike Fink is relegated to a lowly mail rider. This symbolizes the end of the lawless frontier.
Unlike the Harps and Mike Fink, Jamie Lockhart, Clemet and Rosamond Musgrove are torn between two different personas in themselves. Jamie must separate the bandit in himself from the gentleman. Clement is torn between his past with Amalie, his first wife, and the present with his current wife Salmone. Rosamond is looking forward to the future, to be free from her stepmother and experience love besides that between father and daughter. The story is loaded with cruel and horrible acts. Mike Fink tries to kill Jamie and Clement for bags of gold; Clement’s first wife dies after seeing their son thrown into boiling water by Indians, Kentucky Thomas is killed leaving his ugly wife to marry Clement, an Indian girl is raped and killed by Little Harp, and Rosamond is raped by Jamie.
All of these acts are overpowered, however, by the humor of the characters. The three main characters represent clear opposites in their own characters. Rosamond is beautiful and pure but could not tell the truth to save her life. Clement is a planter who is restless and loves to travel. Jamie is a criminal as well as a bridegroom.
Their outside appearance can undermine the opinions of others. If being a bandit were his breadth and scope, I should find him and kill him for sure, said he. But since in addition he loves my daughter, he must be not the one man, but two, and I should be afraid of killing the second. For all things are double, and this should keep us from taking liberties with the outside world, and acting too quickly to finish things off. All things are divided in half-night and day, the soul and body, and sorrow and joy and youth and age, and sometimes I wonder if even my own wife has not been the one person all the time, and I loved her beauty so well at the beginning that it is only now that the ugliness has struck through to beset me like madness (Welty 126). Sometimes it is not easy to understand people.
If one is to jump to immediate conclusions about a person’s identity, they might miss the true character of a person. The three main characters do seem to find an identity that they are comfortable with. Jamie leaves his criminal dealings behind and marries Rosamond who was seeking mature love. With the death of Salmone, Clement does not have to be concerned with obtaining wealth and realizes that his daughter is now a truthful person. Tradition and the past play an important role in two of the characters. Clement longs for the past with his first wife Amalie, and any time he lays eyes upon his daughter he is reminded of her.
Whenever he sleeps he is in the past were he was a happier person. Mike Fink is also living in the past, when he would fight Jamie Lockhart and hundreds of people would watch. When he could carry a dozen oxen and laugh at the Indians (Welty 9). Clement and Mike feel out of place in the new situations they were placed in. The ones that long for the past are the ones that are afraid of the present and future. Clement has a change of attitude the end of the story. After the death of his heartless and ugly wife and he knows his daughter is safe and happy, he looks forward to the future.
The characters that succeed in the story are the ones that are able to adjust to there new surroundings and not wholly in a glorious past. Bibliography Graham, Catherine Clark. Southern Accents : The Fiction of Peter Taylor. New York: Peter Lang, 1994. Taylor, Peter.
The Collected Stories of Peter Taylor. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969. English Essays.