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ESSAY Killers Real and Imagined by Doris Betts MedgarEvers as ayoung man. Courtesy ofMedgarEvers College. real event—the murder of civil-rights activist Medgar Evers on 12 June 1963 in his own driveway—sparked Eudora Welty's monologue story "Where is the Voice Coming From?" She wrote the story at white heat at one sitting the night Evers was shot down in Jackson, Mississippi, where they both Uved. By 1999 other real events were bringing a newgeneration ofreaders to the story. The victim's surviving brother, Charles Evers, had pubUshed his autobiography; the widow, MyrUe Evers-WiUiams, had become chairman of the naacp board of directors and written her memoir; and HoUywood had issued a füm, Ghosts ofMississippi , about why it took thirty years and three juries to convict the white murderer Welty had imagined on paper. Litde of Welty's work has such a sense of art imitating Ufe or so direct a link with current events. In her 1965 article for TheAtlanticMonthly, "Must the Novelist Crusade?" she warned against stock characters who might only represent ideas—even if these were good ideas. Yet at least one reader sees this story as a move from aesthetics to ethics. This story stands out as a rare comment on her times, and unUke most ofWelty's other stories, which were written more deUberately , "Powerhouse" and this one each came out in its essential shape at one sitting . Welty was at work on LosingBattles m the summer of 1963 and has told several interviewers that "Voice" just pushed right through that novel. Comparison of her typed draft (then caUed "From the Unknown") with the version The New Yorkergot into gaUeys just two weeks after the killing shows Welty condensing the story while editor WilUam MaxweU and The New Yorkerlawyers worked to make it less actionable, since a suspect with similarities to her character had been arrested before the story ranJuly 6.1 A third distinction of the story is that only five other Welty narratives are written in first-person point ofview, and none this intensely. The PonderHeart, "Why I Live at the P.O.," "Kin," "A Memory," and "Circe" are all in first person, though Welty has said the last was not spoken aloud but was more a soliloquy or meditation . But "Voice" does seem to be spoken aloud, by the end almost hummed to the twang ofa cheap guitar, and its brevity (only two pages when pubUshed in The New Yorker) makes it a fine dramatic monologue for actors or speech students . In an interview Welty said she wrote the story to discover who committed the murder, not his name "but his nature," and she beUeved she had come close to "pinpointing his mind." The kiUer she envisioned was of the same type Bob Dylan depicted in his song about the same murder, "Only a Pawn in Their Game." His lyrics portray a poor white controUed by his circumstances and by the Estabhshment. Both were mistaken. One friend told Welty, 'You thought it was a Snopes and it was a Compson."2 Instead of being poor white trash, Byron De La Beckwith, the real Ufe mur6 southern cultures, Winter 1999 : Doris Betts Bob Dylan, 1962, envisioned the same type ofkiller as Welty in his song "Only a Pawn in Their Game. " Courtesy ofthe Library ofCongress, Prints and Photographic Division [LC-usz62-ioj999]. Killers RealandImagined 7 Eudora Welty, 1962. Courtesy ofthe Library ofCongress, Prints and Photographic Division [i.C-USZ62-1096J1]. derer, claimed to be the grandson of a general in Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry . He had grown up on a plantation near where Emmett TiU, fourteen and black, was also kUled, for aUegedly flirting with a young white woman, his body dumped into the TaUahatchie River. Yetitwas a longway down from an old Delta family that had once owned some of Jefferson Davis's china to this fertilizer salesman caUed "De-Lay" by his friends, an anti-Semite and member ofboth the segregationist Citizens' Council and the Klan. Despite Beckwith's claims to a planter background, this twenty-five-hundred word interior monologue—boiled down from forty-five typescript pages of revised sections—could have been spoken in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 5-13
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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