Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hitch-Hikers - Eudora Welty

Author: Eudora Welty
Date: 1941
Setting: Mississippi in the 1930s
Availability: in the short story collection A Curtain of Green

Story: Tom Harris, a traveling salesman, picks up two hitch-hikers on a road trip from Victory (Mississippi) to Memphis. One of the men talks a lot and is carrying a yellow guitar. The other man is very silent. Harris talks with the men, and soon realizes that they are hobos who have been traveling together for convenience for a couple of weeks.

He takes some pity on them and buys them dinner, and then asks the proprietor of a hotel where he often stays to let them sleep on his porch. While he is inside arranging this, the men apparently try to steal his car. The quiet man hits the man with the guitar over the head with a bottle, seriously injuring him. He is taken to the hospital and the assailant is locked in a room in the hotel, right across the hall from Harris, because the jail is full.

But this is one of Harris’ regular stops, and people in town know him. He’s popular at parties hosted by Ruth, a lady he knows. She introduces him to a girl named Carol, and they spend the evening together. She insists that she knew him from a long time ago, but he can’t remember her at all. There is much speculation at the party as to whether the guitar player will live or die.

Commentary: The Hitch-Hikers is a story with more questions than answers. On the surface it is a guileless portrayal of the Depression-era American South. Salesmen, hobos, forward girls, street children and “colored” children are presented without commentary, allowed to speak for themselves as to who they are and how they fit into society.

It is also the story of a man who is unable to connect with other human beings. Although Harris does show some hospitality toward the strangers, he never really forms even a simple kind of bond with them, and is oddly unmoved by their thievery, or the assault. He seems modestly curious about the prognosis for the injured man, but detached from the whole outcome, as well. He keeps forgetting what town he is in, even what girl he is with. He has no memory of Carol although she insists that she knows him.

When finally alone in his room he does not want to even take off his clothes, to feel any contact with the bed. The quiet becomes unbearable and he turns on the fan which clicks with every revolution and he welcomes the noise to shut out his thoughts.

In the final poignant scene he leaves town the next day, yet leaving more than the town behind him.

Author info: Eudora Welty 1909- 2001. Welty was born in Mississippi and developed an early love of reading. She earned several college degrees in an era when women seldom had any college education. During the Depression she worked for the WPA interviewing people and collecting photos of life in Mississippi. This experience became part of the basis of many of her short stories, which focused on Southern life. Several books of her short stories were published, and she won many prizes, including the Pulitzer.

“He felt a... disturbing possessiveness, which meant nothing... He was free; helpless.”

Language skills 9
Depth of meaning 8



  1. Are there a lot of elipses in the text like this? I'm reading a current book that has a bunch of them, and it makes things 'jerky' for me. Doesn't quite sound like my type of story, but the review here is excellent!

  2. elipses? i only have them around the word Mississippi. What browser are you using?

  3. Sounds like something different, an interesting read. It sounds like one of those stories that is as much about writing style as it is about plot.



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