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Masterpiece Theatre Home The Ponder Heart The Ponder Heart
Teacher's Guide [imagemap with 10 links]

Investigations and Extensions

  • The Ponder Heart takes subjects often treated seriously -- family, death, marriage, money, insanity, a murder trial -- and makes them funny. Find lines in the novel or film in which a topic often depicted seriously is presented comically. (For example, this is how Edna Earle tells of Bonnie Dee's death: "To make a long story short, Bonnie Dee sent for him Monday after dinner, and she was dead as a doornail by supper.") Which of these works especially well? Why? What other novels, films, or other works can you think of that take a comic look at "ponderous" subjects? Why do you think comic writing is often based on such weighty aspects of human experience?

  • In the book, The Ponder Heart is told exclusively from the point of view of Edna Earle. What would happen if Uncle Daniel, Bonnie Dee, Narciss, or Grandpa Ponder told his or her version instead? Choose a point in the story and write the scene from the perspective of one of these characters. How would the story change if it was told from this person's point of view?

  • The speech of the characters in The Ponder Heart is a colorful amalgam of Southern colloquialism, including hyperbole, clichés, similes, metaphors, slang, platitudes, and allusion. Do we all speak this way, in an idiom that comes from our own time, place, and age? Investigate this in two ways. First, define each of the kinds of speech listed above and find examples of each category in the film or novel. Then try to find examples of those types of speech in your own friends and family. Tape record or transcribe the conversation of people you know in a casual setting, then analyze it for examples of each of the categories listed above. After doing the second exercise, your class can compile a list of common colloquial words or phrases used in your community.

  • Eudora Welty, who spent almost her entire life in Jackson, Mississippi, famously ends her memoir, One Writer's Beginnings, with the lines, "I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within." Do you agree? Would Edna Earle agree? Trace the theme of "straying too far from where you're known and all" in The Ponder Heart by noting how each character, from Edna Earle to Uncle Daniel to Bonnie Dee to Otis Springer, wrestles with the topic. For more information about Eudora Welty, read about her life.

  • Eudora Welty died at age 92, shortly before this film was shown. She was adamant that she did not want a biography written about her. For that reason only one exists, an unauthorized biography by Ann Waldron (see bibliography). How important do you think it is to know about an artist's life in understanding his or her work? Why? Do you think it is right to write a biography of a famous person against his or her wishes? For more about Eudora Welty, read about her life. For more about Welty and Waldron, read the article by Janny Scott called "For Unauthorized Biographers, the World Is Very Hostile."

  • Richard Wright, author of Native Son, was only six months older than Eudora Welty, and grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, at the same time she did. Because he was African-American and she was white in a segregated time and place, they never knew each other. Compare their early lives and experiences in Jackson through their autobiographical writings, Welty's One Writer's Beginnings and Wright's Black Boy. What do you think they might say to each other if they were to have a conversation today? Role play this conversation.

  • Read Welty's essay Must the Novelist Crusade? in which she discusses why she does not "crusade" on issues like race in her novels, though, as a "Southern writer," she was often pressured to do so. Do you think she is right? Why or why not? Do you think her fiction supports the claims she makes in this essay about what the novelist should do? Are there any works of art that do "crusade" (by Welty's definition) that you admire?

  • Many famous works of American literature are set in close-knit communities and, like The Ponder Heart, depend on the nature of small-town life to enhance the plot, conflicts, themes, and characters. (Consider works such as To Kill a Mockingbird, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Grapes of Wrath, The Color Purple, Our Town, My Antoniá, The Scarlet Letter, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.) Choose the setting of one of these works and compare and contrast the town of Clay, Mississippi, with it. Who in the community has the most power? Who has the least? What are the group mores, or beliefs, about what is good and bad, right and wrong? How are people who are different viewed? To what extent are people "kept in line" by the opinions of others? Do you think that some of the similarities you've found would be true in any small community? Why or why not?

  • Eudora Welty is often mentioned in the same breath as other twentieth-century American Southern writers such as William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, and Katherine Anne Porter. Research some of the common characteristics of this group of writers. You may want to choose one writer to focus on. What do you think is particularly "Southern" about Eudora Welty's work? Make a case for or against classifying and studying Welty as part of this group. For more information about American Southern writers, read Voices of Mississippi and the article "The Idea of the South" from The Atlantic Monthly.

Teacher's Guide:
Plot Summary | Before Viewing | Viewing Strategies | After Viewing
Novel into Film | Scene Study | Investigations and Extentions | Resources

A Eudora Welty Timeline | One Writer's Place | Voices of Mississippi
Martha Coolidge, Director | Novel to Film | Who's Who
Story Synopsis | Teacher's Guide | The Forum | Links + Bibliography

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