Throughout the story, the radio represents the contentious or flawed communication between the family members. The radio was once a pawn in Sister and Stella-Rondo’s constant struggle to occupy the favored position in the family. When Stella-Rondo once broke a chain letter from Flanders Field, her angry uncle Rondo wrested control of the radio from her and gave it to Sister, an incident that Sister views as a major victory. When it comes time for her to move out of the house, she proudly seizes the radio, which replaces human contact when she isolates herself at the post office. By taking the radio, she also takes one of the only connections the family has to the world beyond their home. This removal represents a new low in the family’s communication problems.
The Post Office
For Sister, the post office represents both independence and entrapment. On one hand, it is an escape for Sister, a haven from her family. Her job as postmistress gives her a measure of independence, and it gives her a place to go to when her family life becomes intolerable. However, it is not a total retreat, and her move reveals how trapped she truly is within the long shadow of her family. For example, Sister got the position of postmistress only because of Papa-Daddy’s influence, so in one way she is escaping from her family to a place her family provided. Once settled at the post office, she is still actively involved with her family, even from afar. She monitors whose “side” other people are on and claims that she’ll never listen to anything Stella-Rondo has to say. But the more adamantly Sister proclaims her independence from her family, the more mired she proves herself to be. Without her family’s squabbling, Sister has nothing to rail against, and one wonders how she would identify herself apart from her family. She may long to escape her family, but the further she gets, the clearer her connection to them becomes.
Shirley-T. serves as a mirror that reflects the desires and fantasies of Mama and Stella-Rondo. Named after Shirley Temple, the curly-topped singing-and-dancing child star of the 1930s and 1940s, Shirley-T. seems to take on any identity that is fashioned for her. But in addition to her doll-like presence in the story, Shirley-T. also emerges as a symbol of the family’s ongoing pattern of miscommunication and animosity. After her tap-dance and vocal performance, the only other word she says, after Uncle Rondo gives her a nickel, is “Papa,” mistakenly referring to him as her father. And she is already learning from those around her the dysfunctional ways of the household. As Sister is about to leave, Shirley-T. sticks her tongue out at her, showing that she has absorbed the family’s mean-spirited attitude or at least become skilled at reflecting it.