Welty’s Strangers Journey Out, and South, of Conventional New Orleans

by Bridget Maguire

Eudora Welty takes readers on a journey to a place unbound by social convention in her short story, “No Place for You, My Love.”  This story’s inspiration stems from a trip Welty, accompanied by young Harvard professor Carvel Collins, made to Venice, Louisiana, during her stay in New Orleans in the summer of 1951 (Marrs 157).  In “No Place for You, My Love,” two strangers meet over lunch at Galatoire’s Restaurant and proceed to travel together south of New Orleans to the Louisiana town of Venice.  Venice’s geographic distance and separation from New Orleans speaks to the story’s subjects leaving behind the conventional comfort of the city both physically and emotionally.  Although the strangers are able to share a brief romance during their excursion, the physical features and many ominous signs of death they encounter throughout Venice’s landscape threaten any possibility of a future together.

Bourbon1GalatoiresIn order for the two strangers to explore any type of mutual romance, they must leave New Orleans.  The story’s setting in Galatoire’s is significant as it is a renowned restaurant of New Orleans known for its history of tradition, authentic cuisine, and sophisticated customers; it serves as an emblem of convention and societal expectations.  While inside Galatoire’s, “What they amounted to was two Northerners keeping each other company” (Welty 466).  This description of the strangers reinforces the notion that they will never be anything more in this place bounded by social constructions.  Both strangers are conscious of their situation and decide to travel south of New Orleans, a place to which neither of them has ever been.  In her unpublished talk on “No Place for You, My Love” Rebecca Mark suggests:

These strangers do not as Welty herself and Michael Kreyling have suggested, take a safe unconsummated ride, but instead they travel a rare journey to an Arabi (Arabic) Baba’s (Ali Baba’s) Venice–evoking the other city of love–where there can be no such thing as consummation, either from a narratological or sexual position, no “the end.” (2)

The romantic possibilities associated with a town named Venice as well as the street, Arabi, which they turn onto to get there emphasize the strangers’ expectations of their destination.  This necessity to leave the city for romantic exploration emphasizes the impossibility of any development of the same nature to even occur, yet alone thrive, in conventional New Orleans.

The narrator’s description of the landscape into which the strangers make their journey constructs Venice not as a romantic place but a completely foreign place in which they do not serve purposes.  The overwhelming presence of insects and crayfish along with the intensifying, unbearable heat make this place seem like an untamed, unrefined, foreign jungle.  In Welty’s letter to her friend Elizabeth Bowen detailing her trip, she notes, “I wished for you.  Except the mosquitoes were so thick, everybody on the road carried a branch of a palm to keel flailing around” (Marrs 156).  While Welty may have missed her friend during her journey to Venice, this place is nothing she would ever wish to subject her friend to.  In addition to the unbearable atmosphere, the narrator constantly notes the watery, or “amphibious,” nature of the landscape (Welty 479).  This significant detail alludes to the idea of this land constantly being in motion – never a stable, static, real place.  The landscape’s physical features emphasize Venice and its surrounding area as an unrefined, unstable, alien place completely absent of convention – an ideal setting for any romantic possibilities for the two strangers.

Throughout the strangers’ trip, the narrator mentions several ominous signals.  The flapping map, an item used to navigate unfamiliar territory, symbolizes the unpredictability of this place.  Even as their journey progresses, the two strangers do not really know where they are heading or what they are doing; this uncertainty stresses the place’s unfit environment for them.  While driving, they see dead snakes littering the road as well as dead fish lying on the doorsteps of houses they pass.  These signs of death only further support the notion of Venice as an unsuitable place for the visitors.  Upon their return back to New Orleans, the man tells the female stranger, “We’re all right now” (Welty 480).  This comment demonstrates the strangers’ own beliefs that the place they ventured into was indeed unsafe for them.  Although they initially ventured out of New Orleans with excitement and enthusiasm, these emotions have drastically changed into ones of unease, discomfort, and fear by the end of the day.  Upon entering New Orleans, the man assures his companion that they safely back within the confines of the city.

The landscape’s features as well as several symbols of death define Venice and its surrounding area as alien.  Not only is this a place unsuitable for the story’s two strangers, but a place unfit for any sort of affair they might have hoped to continue.  Upon their return to New Orleans, the woman enters her hotel and meets her presumed lover with a renewed sense of their relationship.  Simultaneously, the man is thinking about his wife and return home. The ability of her and, possibly the male stranger, to reengage in their previously established relationships encourages the reader to see that there is no place for either stranger in Venice, or in a broader sense, any place so unconventional that they abandon the societal expectations of the relationships they are already committed to.

Illustrations

1. Eudora Welty, 2009, MPI/Getty Images, http://static.ddmcdn.com/gif/junior-league-3.jpg

2. Galatoire’s Restaurant. By Infrogmation of New Orleans (Photo by Infrogmation (talk)) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

3. Custom Google Map, 2013.

Works Cited

Mark, Rebecca. “Lost in the Streets: Beyond the Carnivalesque New Orleans.” 2010 SSSL Conference. New Orleans. 27 Feb. 2013. Lecture.

Marrs, Suzanne. One Writer’s Imagination: The Fiction of Eudora Welty. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2002. Print.

Welty, Eudora. “No Place For You, My Love.” The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1980. 465-81. Print.

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