“A Visit of Charity” is a story about a fourteen-year-old girl, Marian, who visits two old women in a nursing home. The purpose of her visit is to earn a three-point for her score in Campfire Girl. By bringing a potted plant to the nursing home, she can earn an extra one point, or a double point is counted if she brings a bible and reads it to the old ladies. Marian brings with her a potted plant. In the nursing home, she is so shocked by the inferior environs and two cantankerous old ladies. During her brief stay, she is peculiar, and her mind cannot function properly. She loses the abilities to think, see, speak, and hear clearly. She has a strong impulse to run away from this strange place, and strange elderly women. At the end, Marian leaves a crying old woman and an imploring old woman untouched. She gets back an apple she has hidden under a tree and runs to catch the bus to go home.
The story takes place on a very cold winter day at a nursing home, where the building is described as “whitewashed brick and reflected the winter sunlight like a block of ice” and is beautified by “prickly dark shrub.” These scenes imply the absence of affection and warmth from a society towards forsaken elderly people in the nursing home. Marian is the protagonist of the story. She is a self-centered person. She is concerned about the progress of her Campfire Girl points more than anything. Her visit is clearly insincere when she tells the nurse at the desk, “I’m a Campfire Girl… I have to pay a visit to some old ladies.” When the nurse asks if she is acquainted with any persons there, she answers, “No-but-that is, any of them will do.” The potted plant is more evidence that shows Marian’s selfishness. Instead of bringing fruits or other more practical and sincere presents, Marian chooses to bring a potted plant that can earn her one extra point. However, compared to the previous campfire girl who has brought a bible during her visit, Marian is considered to have a little self-awareness for she does not choose to bring a bible that can earn more extra points for her. Welty sarcastically suggests that people who use bibles as the tools for self-gaining are indeed those who are overly preoccupied with their own benefits. Their actions fly in the face of sanctification.
Marian, however, has dehumanized the two old women unconsciously too. She associates the sound of an old lady to a sheep’s bleating and the hand of another old lady to a bird's claw. When entering the tiny dark room, she is frightened by her own creative imagination, where she is being caught in a robbers’ cave. After all, these hallucinations are caused by Marian’s lack of preparation. Welty’s description of Marian’s reactions also shows the disrespect of teenagers or society toward elder generation. Through the story, Welty dramatizes the isolation life in the nursing home. In the mid-morning, the hall is quiet and the doors are closed. This suggests that most of the residents are staying in their tiny rooms with their roommates only; no one trespasses other people boundaries. Too much furniture in the room indicates that the ladies spend plenty of time in the room, and they do not socialize with other residents in the public area in the nursing home. Therefore, it is not surprising that the two old women always argue with each other. Perhaps arguing is one of the few things if it is not the only thing they can do in a day. Also, if they are not isolated, why does Addie feel miserable on her birthday, and why does nobody help to celebrate Addie’s birthday?
After listening to Addie’s dissatisfaction about her roommate and knowing that today is Addie’s birthday, Marian seems to have experienced an epiphany. She begins to realize something about the old ladies. For the first time, she asks a question, a question that refers to Addie, not a sheep, “How old are you?” Although Addie refuses to answer the question, she indeed feels warmhearted and so she cries. Needless to say, it must have been a long time since any one was concerned about her existence. Marian’s simple question means a lot to poor Addie. Unfortunately, Marian’s epiphany is too short. She becomes untouched again to the other old woman who is imploring her for a penny. Perhaps she is just confused with feeling that she has never had before – sympathy. Finally, a red apple appears at the end of the story. It is traditionally a symbol of love or knowledge. Marian retrieves a red apple from a tree implying the ignition of love from the bottom of her heart towards elderly people. Or it also can imply the knowledge she has gained from her visit to the nursing home.
“A Visit of Charity” is a story that has a moral message to the readers. The author conveys through the story the inhumane treatment in nursing homes. The nursing home lacks amenities for elderly people. The condition of the room is comparable to a jail – small, wet, dark, and closed door. A nurse acts more like a jail guard than a compassionate professional. Welty portrays Marian as an individual person or as a whole society that is insensitive to the welfare of elderly people. People in society was used to living in their own comfort zones and neglect the inferior lives of unfortunate people. The story uses campfire girls who pay visits to the nursing home for self-benefits as a mirror of the selfishness and dehumanization of society in reality. The epiphany of Marian in the story is actually a symbolic of readers’ awareness of human difficulties.