Repetition appears throughout “Why I Live at the P.O.,” contributing to characterization and underscoring the stasis of the family’s home life. Welty uses repetition in two ways. First, there is the sense of family history repeating itself. When Sister questions the validity of Stella-Rondo’s claim that Shirley-T. is adopted, Stella-Rondo forbids her from ever again mentioning Shirley-T.’s name. This gag order is mirrored later when Sister discusses the matter with Mama and makes a fleeting reference to Cousin Annie Flo, who lived in an unexplained state of denial her entire life. Upon hearing the name, Mama threatens to slap Sister for violating her order never to mention her cousin in her presence again. When confronted with difficult questions or situations, family members opt for total denial rather than attempting to sort things out.
Repetition also appears in the family’s gang mentality. Both Stella-Rondo and Mama exaggerate Sister’s words or claim that she’s made a mean-spirited observation, when in fact she’s done or said nothing wrong. Sister reacts by repeating how individual family members have “turned against” her. The family’s negative and cruel mode of interacting is deeply entrenched and shows no signs of ceasing. Ultimately, Welty’s repetition of actions and phrases helps dramatize the family’s stasis and suggests that the family’s rituals will persevere despite the grief they cause.
Denial is a powerful force that is deeply rooted in every member of Sister’s family. Rather than face difficult truths that could tarnish their vision of themselves and their lives, the family members opt to completely deny reality. They delude themselves and willingly go along with others’ self-delusions. Mama is among the most grievous offenders, willingly suspending her disbelief when Stella-Rondo claims that Shirley-T. is adopted. Determined to support whatever version of the truth is easiest or most palatable, she denies the obvious flaws in the claim—such as the fact that Shirley-T. very much resembles Stella-Rondo. The entire family exists in a state of constant denial and avoidance of the truth.
Although Sister portrays herself as the victim, she too is in denial about her own role in the family’s fraught relations. She paints everyone else as being crazy and deceitful but does her part to rile up her relatives, such as by pestering Stella-Rondo about Shirley-T.’s parentage and snidely claiming that she foresaw Stella-Rondo’s fate. She describes moving to the post office as a desperate move of self-preservation, but it’s actually a gesture that is as childish and dramatic as anything Stella-Rondo or Papa-Daddy would do. Furthermore, no matter how certain she is that she’s found happiness and peace, she is still actively involved in the family feud. She keeps track of which townspeople are with or against her, and she feels compelled to announce her happiness to the world. Sister is denying the reality that her short-term solution does nothing to resolve the problems she has with her family members.