Summary and Analysis
Welch Sections 1-2
The family drifts slowly across the country because their rundown clunker can't go over 20 miles per hour. When they arrive in tiny Welch, West Virginia a month later, the kids meet their paternal grandparents, Erma and Ted, for the first time, as well as their Uncle Stanley. Erma immediately comes off as a hard woman and relegates her houseguests to the basement to stay until they can find a place to live. Jeannette immediately dislikes these "new" members of her family.
The next day, the family tours Welch. The Tug River is full of fecal material, and the entire town seems to be covered in coal dust from the mining operations located in the surrounding mountains. The town is clearly impoverished, and the locals look at these newcomers with a suspicious eye. However, Mom remains hopeful and is sure her art career will take off in this new place.
Through the introduction of Erma, Ted, and Stanley, Walls is able to provide background to Dad's character. Additionally, she uses irony to illustrate Mom's lack of understanding of practical matters. Erma, Ted, and Stanley are all rough around the edges. Erma's cold welcome and Stanley's whiskey breath indicate that life in Welch is not what Mom imagined it to be. Dad's reaction to this reunion to his family — his quiet but complete relief when offered whiskey — indicates he is not happy to be back and foreshadows that he left their company for a reason.
Dad's distaste for his family, coupled with Welch's overall poverty and backwoods ways, makes Mom's decision to move the family there, as well as her excitement upon their arrival, both ironic and absurd. For instance, after the family completes their tour of town, Mom admits Welch looks slightly worse than it did fifteen years ago when she saw it last; however, she follows this with an optimism about her art career taking off as she will have no competition here. Through Mom's reaction to Welch, Walls illustrates that Mom is often disassociated from the real constraints that dominate her children's lives: Dad and the kids experience a kind of foreboding during the tour, while Mom remains hopeful, choosing to ignore the bad and focus on her own agenda. Readers should pay attention to how Mom's refusal to engage with reality and Dad's inability to do so effectively affects Jeannette and her siblings as they set up residence in Welch.