The Neglected Fundamental

We learn each letter until letters mean nothing and words mean everything.

In Eudora Welty’s “One Writer’s Beginnings,” there is a central theme of the importance of reading – of course all the current readings have the same central theme; however, Welty takes it further. Instead of Welty focusing on the big picture of reading, she knit picked away to the core until my favorite part in which she talks about the alphabet. The alphabet is the fundamental tool of a language – one that does indeed have a written language. She states, “I believe the alphabet is no longer considered an essential piece of equipment for traveling through life,” (23). In this statement, the author accents a dying tool even though it is the basis of the language; however, what she is trying to convince the audience is that people do not learn to speak and write by a one-letter basis. Slowly but surely, we learn words, then phrases, then learn how to pair sentences to create a paragraph and so on and so forth. The lesson plan for students to learn one letter at a time to compose a phrase is completely outdated. I agree with Welty in that when I was taught how to read and write, I had a picture book with words underneath the pictures. When there was a picture of a cow it would state cow underneath; when there was a picture of a horse it would state horse underneath, etc. It is almost as if we just memorize the words before we learn the alphabet. When I began to read, I read the words but never actually thought of the actual letters. I knew what the words meant and how to use them – I never acknowledged the fact that each individual word had a specific letter to make up the word.

Welty continues with this idea of memorization through, “you learned the alphabet as you learned…your father’s and mother’s name and address and telephone number,” (23). As a child, if I were to get lost, I had my home phone memorized – remember home phones, before cell phones; however, it was memorized. The author draws a parallel between the alphabet and learning parents’ phone numbers because we commonly overlook the fact that there is an individual segment in each. By segment, I mean that there is a specific letter or number placed in the spot for a specific reason to allow beauty to happen – i.e. books or the beauty of hearing your mother’s voice.

My all time favorite quote from “One Writer’s Beginnings,” is, “I fell in love with the various winding, enchanted-looking initials,” (23). Welty doesn’t simply overlook the letters and continue reading forward, she is mesmerized by each individual letter in its own. Each letter holds a specific reason for being there. Without one letter, the word clearly wouldn’t be the same and would throw off each piece of work it holds. I, again, agree with the author that the alphabet is beautiful and too often overlooked. It is the fundamental piece of every writing or reading.

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2 comments

  1. K · September 3, 2015

    I completely agree with what you are saying about memorizing each individual piece at a time. I was the same way when I was younger, I would remember phone numbers, words, and spelling by the place and time that I needed it. I never fully learned certain words unless I needed them. I like how you point out that Welty took note of the letters that made up words. She notices the ornate design of each letter and associated spelling and sound of each word with the beauty within each letter.

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  2. Ethyn Reasoner · September 4, 2015

    I am glad you brought up how Welty described her fascination with the alphabet. As I type this, I think about how each keystroke leads to the next and how that eventually forms a word, then a phrase, then a sentence, then a paragraph, then a full comment, a blog, an article, a book, or another published work. Welty first started out with the broad subject of writing, analyzed what writings can mean, went deeper into individual words and letters, and summarized her points. I believe that kind of analysis strengthened her argument.

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