6. In answer to a student who wrote to ask her "Is the grandson really dead?" Welty responded, "My best answer would be: Phoenix is alive." What might have led the student to ask that question? How can the author's remark be seen as an answer?
Apparently this student and I were on the same page because I was wondering the same question. Although it is not explicitly stated, I think that the grandson is indeed dead. The reason I think so is mainly because of the scene at the doctor's office where some subtle clues are given in her interaction with one of the nurses. Basically, I think that Phoenix is sort of crazy. At one point in the story, on page 224, she hallucinates and says that a little boy brings her a piece of marble-cake. Since this is clearly not the case, I took it as my first sign that she may not be completely sane. Also, the way that other characters act towards her seemed sympathetic. It seemed like many people knew of her condition so they let her be and didn't give her any trouble. The nurse was one of these characters. When she questions Phoenix about her grandson, she says "Throat never heals, does it?", implying that she had been getting him antibiotics for a long time. When she said that, I got a sense that her grandson had died a long time ago and she was just unwilling to accept the truth.
The author's answer illuminates the fact that whether the grandson is still alive or not is not important. The story is focused on the character of Phoenix and is unaffected by his absence. Either way, the story would have had the same effect because he was not the focal point.