The Optimist


The Optimist’s Daughter Essay, Research Paper

The major characters in The Optimist’s Daughter are Judge McKelva, Becky Mckelva, Laurel Mckelva, Wanda Fay, Dr. Courtland, Miss Adele Courtland, Tish Bullock, Major Bullock, Miss Tennyson, and Miss Missouri. Becky Mckelva was Judge Mckelva’s wife before she died and had Laurel Mckelva with him. Wanda Fay remarried Judge Mckelva after his wife’s death. Dr. Courtland did surgery on Becky Mckelva and the final operation on Judge Mckelva. Miss Adele Courtland is the sister of Dr. Courtland and is a bride’s maid to Laurel McKelva. Tish Bullock is also a bride’s maid to Laurel and is the daughter of Miss Tennyson and Major Bullock. Miss Tennyson is another bride’s maid to Laurel McKelva and is married to Major Bullock. Miss Missouri is the maid to the McKelva’s and a long time friend of the family.


Two main characters in The Optimist’s Daughter are Wanda Fay and Laurel McKelva. Wanda Fay is a woman in her 40’s and has the maturity of a child. Whenever she becomes mad, Fay starts to scream, point fingers, and search out people who will help her. She can not stand up and fight for herself, instead Fay uses tactics to make her opponent feel sorry or inferior. This makes her extremely hard to get along with since she is always demanding and never giving. Laurel McKelva is the complete opposite of Wanda Fay. She is kind hearted, nice, caring, and intelligent. Laurel has a air of maturity and understanding around her due to her experiences in life.


In “The Optimist’s Daughter” Judge McKelva will soon enter eye surgery to fix a slipped retina. Judge McKelva, his daughter, Laurel, and his new wife, Fay, are all anxious about the surgery and what might happen. Laurels mother died from cancer that started with her eyes and the family fears that the judge might be suffering from the same illness. The surgery symbolizes a fear that is contained by the three main characters and is a form of foreshadowing. As mentioned by Laurel several times, she fears that her father might not make it out of the operation and die, like her mother, blind and confused. I predict that Judge McKelva will not make it through the surgery or he will die shortly afterwards. With such a sudden death, Laurel and Fay will not have time to say good-bye to him and this will lead to complications later in the book.


As predicted, Judge Mckelva dies after his surgery, but he holds on for a few weeks before his ultimate death. Although the Judge did eventually die, he did not die shortly after his surgery as predicted. Laurel and Fay show an almost immediate dislike to each other during the Judge’s decline and after his death. This hate could, later in the book, manifest itself into a conflict between the two.


Judge McKelva’s daughter, Laurel, and his wife, Fay, disliked each other from the beginning of the book and are in one constant conflict. Fay is like a child trapped in an elder’s body. She is used to things being her way, likes to be spoiled, stubborn, and impatient. Laurel is young and kind hearted. She is more than willing to wait for her father to get better, but Fay is not. When they are in New Orleans, Fay keeps speaking about Marti Gras and how the Judge promised he would take her one day. Not once does she show any concern with her husband’s condition, but instead continues to think of only her self. Laurel is gravely concerned with her father’s condition and even spends almost all daylight hours at the hospital with him. Laurel confronts Fay about her lack of care and concern for her husband. Fay goes into a temper tantrum and screams about how her husband has ruined her life because he is no giving her whatever she wants. Laurel gives up on trying to understand Fay and continues to look after her father. The conflict between Fay and Laurel is never resolved and will never be. Fay and Laurel are two opposites and they do not attract.


Judge McKelva’s wife, Fay, is in a conflict with her past. She tries to destroy everything of the past so that it will not come back and haunt her. Through out the book Fay displays ways in which she hates the past. Some examples are, When she tells Laurel that she has no family but then her family comes to Jude McKelva’s funeral, how Fay destroyed all remains of Becky McKelva, and how she refers to her self as being in the future, not the past. Fay’s hate for the past comes from a desire to disassociate herself with her family, which lies in the past. Although at the end of the novel Fay does return with her family to her hometown for a few days, she had no interest with them in the beginning of the book.


The Optimist’s Daughter is set in New Orleans and the small Mississippi town of Mount Salus in March of the 1970’s. In New Orleans, Marti Gras has started and adds an atmosphere of excitement. Although a hospital is were the novel revolves around in New Orleans, Marti Gras is brought up several times. The hospital adds a sense of anticipation for what might happen. In Mount Salus, the small town and people give a sense of closeness and understanding. In such a small town all of the residents know about the loss of Judge McKelva and it gives the feeling of love and warmth even if the main characters do not see it this way. Mount Salus adds the characteristics of a caring family to the plot of the story. The setting helps add missing characters to the plot of The Optimist’s Daughter.


Wanda Fay and Hillary Clinton I believe to be very similar people. Fay is very selfish and cold hearted. She does not care what other people think as long as she gets her way. Her motives can never be figured out and might even come from some sort of mental disorder. Fay is also very demanding and all of her demands are supposed to be met immediately or else she becomes very hostile. Hillary Clinton matches Fay in many aspects. She is selfish and cold hearted, very demanding and wants all the power that she can get. Hillary is also swift and concise when she attacks, but Fay tends to scream and rant. Fay is also like a child, she cries, screams, and throws fits.


A large part of The Optimist’s Daughter takes place in the small mississippi town of Mount Salus. Mount Salus is a rather small, rural town where everyone knows everyone and does not have any major industries or manufactures. Fifty years earlier would have seen the town in a much different state and it is very possible that Mount Salus might not have existed. If the township had existed there would have been a much smaller population than its 2000 or so now. Those who lived here would have been living off small shops and retirement. The other possibility for Mount Salus is it was a rather large city that survived due to the railroad. If the town was a hub for trains to come through, it would have been full of warehouses and office buildings that dealt with the transportation of goods. After interstates and highways were built and their popularity picked up, Mount Salus could have been left high and dry. With more and more goods be carried by trucks now instead of trains, many people would have left Mount Salus. This would account for the small population of the township at the time of the novel.


The McKelva house represented all of Laurel’s fears. She had to face all of her deepest horrors when she finally said good-bye to her father. In the house she discovered several items that contained emotional memories for her and she was forced to face them all. The house is a symbol of all of Laurel’s conflicts that she faced before and after her father’s death.

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