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The Irreversibility of Isolation

In “Why I Live at the P.O.,” individuals feel isolated even within in the seemingly nurturing confines of the family, many of them taking refuge in silence. Shirley-T. is an all but mute presence; Sister accuses her of being unable to talk altogether. As on other Fourth of July holidays, Uncle Rondo has overconsumed his prescription medicine, preferring a comatose state to his shrill family. Stella-Rondo, despite the stifling heat, keeps her bedroom windows locked and shut, sealing herself off from the world around her. Sister believes that Papa-Daddy is deaf or intentionally ignoring those around him, because he removes himself from the proceedings, preferring the solitude of the hammock in the yard. When there isn’t isolating silence, characters isolate themselves within flagrant lying and miscommunication. For example, Stella-Rondo convinces Papa-Daddy that Sister insulted his beard and suggested that it be cut off, when Sister never made such assertions. The silence in the story is broken dramatically by the deafening sound of the firecrackers that Uncle Rondo throws onto the floor of Sister’s bedroom.

The family’s isolation gets more intense when Sister prepares to move out. The already insular group swears never to send or receive any mail, just to spite Sister. Without the radio, which Sister takes with her, the family has effectively cut off all contact with the outside world and are left with only their own dysfunctional group. Open and honest communication has proven to be an unreachable goal, so the family instead embraces an even more intense isolation. At the end of the story, when Sister announces that she’d cover her ears if Stella-Rondo tried to explain herself, she is suggesting that this trend of isolation will never reverse itself and instead get steadily worse.

The Easy Habit of Lying

For all the characters in “Why I Live at the P.O.,” lying and deliberate misrepresentations of the truth are easier modes of communication than honesty and openness. Rather than actually communicate, the family members lie, exaggerate, and deliberately misinterpret others’ intentions and remarks. This miscommunication all takes place in the family’s everyday conversations—no one needs an occasion or a reason to distort the truth. In place of rational exchanges, the family members embrace negativity, accusation, and suspicion, and such consistency suggests that this behavior has become habit.

Stella-Rondo exhibits the least amount of self-control when it comes to her need to lie, and Uncle Rondo and Papa-Daddy grow hostile to Sister because of Stella-Rondo’s meddling. Stella-Rondo has mastered the art of “uncommunication.” Meanwhile, Shirley-T. hovers in the gap between truth and deception. Stella-Rondo believes that if she merely states the fact that the little girl is adopted, despite her family resemblance, then it will be accepted and viewed as the truth. However, Stella-Rondo’s constant lying and manipulation render her claims doubtful—especially to Sister. The family members’ easy habit of lying makes every claim, no matter what it is, almost impossible to believe. However, lying is easier than communicating properly, which involves a degree of trust and honesty that proves too difficult for the family members to attain.

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