The Optimist’ Daughter

By Eudora Welty
Genre: Literary Fiction
Buy Now This book is on reading list for February 2019

Discussion Questions

  1. The novel begins with Judge McElva, Laurel, and Fay in the examination room with Dr. Courtland. In this scene, Welty gives the reader a sense of the main characters’ personalities. How does this establish the central conflict of the novel?
  2. What kind of woman is Fay? What do we learn about Laurel and Becky through Fay’s behavior?
  3. As the story unfolds, we learn more and more about Laurel and her relationship to her parents. How does Laurel come to terms with both of their deaths?
  4. Laurel thinks, “The mystery in how little we know of other people is no greater of how much.” What does this mean? Why is she so insistent on the truth?
  5. Reading plays an important role in the novel. What memories does Laurel have of her parents and books? Why is this important to her?
  6. Birds seem to be everywhere in the book. What do they represent?
  7. Each of the four sections provides greater insight about loss. What is the impact of withholding details about Phil under the last section? Welty writes, “As far as Laurel had ever known, there had not happened a single blunder in their short life together. But the guilt of outliving those you love is justly to be borne, she thought. Outliving is something we do to them. The fantasies of dying could be no stranger than the fantasies of living. Surviving is perhaps the strangest fantasy of them all.” How do these words summarize the theme of the novel?
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