The Ballad of the Sad Café McCullers, Carson
The Ballad of the Sad Café
(Full name Lula Carson Smith McCullers) American novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, and poet. See also The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter Criticism, Carson McCullers Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 4, 10, 12, 100.
The following entry presents criticism on McCullers's novella The Ballad of the Sad Café, first published in August, 1943 in Harper's Bazaar.
The Ballad of the Sad Café (1943) is generally considered one of McCullers's best works of fiction and her most successful exploration of her signature themes: loneliness and the effects of unrequited love. McCullers was twenty-four-years-old when she began writing the novella during the winter of 1941. Citing her remark that "everything significant that has happened in my fiction has also happened to me," McCullers's biographer, Virginia Spencer Carr, noted that The Ballad of the Sad Café was most likely inspired by several events in her life at this time. For example, the story's depiction of unreciprocated love is often seen as a grotesque representation of her own one-sided infatuations with the Swiss journalist and novelist Annemarie Clarac-Schwarzenbach and the American writer Katherine Anne Porter. Similarly, the motif of the romantic triangle is regarded as a distorted rendering of the situation between McCullers, her husband, and the American composer David Diamond.
Plot and Major Characters
The Ballad of the Sad Café is set in a small mill town in Georgia, where Miss Amelia Evans lives alone in a boarded-up building. Most of the story is told in a flashback that explains how "Miss Amelia" came to her present situation. We learn that the building she lives in was a general store she inherited from her father. Miss Amelia is described as a tall, somewhat masculine woman who becomes the richest person in town from her earnings with the store and a very prosperous still that produces the best liquor in the county. A grim and solitary person, Miss Amelia surprises the town when she agrees to marry Marvin Macy. A handsome and apparently industrious man, Macy has a history of nefarious and sadistic activities: he used to carry with him the ear of a man he killed in a razor fight; he has chopped off the heads of squirrels; and he has abused several young girls. His marriage to Miss Amelia lasts only ten days, mainly because, having married only to gain companionship, she refuses to consummate the marriage. Disgusted by his attempts to seduce her, Miss Amelia puts him out of the house. Macy leaves town vowing revenge and quickly returns to his old ways, robbing gas stations and supermarkets and becoming a suspect in a murder. He is eventually arrested and sentenced to serve time in a penitentiary near Atlanta.
One April evening eleven years later, Miss Amelia and several townspeople are sitting on her porch when a hunchbacked stranger named Lymon Willis shows up. Claiming to be a distant relation of Miss Amelia, "Cousin Lymon," as he comes to be known, is a sociable if somewhat shallow character who has "an instinct which is usually only found in small children, an instinct to establish immediate and vital contact between himself and all things in the world." Miss Amelia takes him in. The next day, however, Cousin Lymon is nowhere to be seen. The third day after his arrival, Miss Amelia stays holed up inside her house, leading one of the townspeople to speculate that she has murdered Lymon for something he had in his suitcase. By nightfall, with the rumor having spread throughout the town, a number of men come to Miss Amelia's house and watch from the porch as she writes at the desk in her office. When she gets up to close her office door, the men sense that the moment has come for action and walk into the store. At that point Cousin Lymon emerges from the top of the stairs and begins chatting with everyone. Miss Amelia comes out of her office and asks if anyone needs anything. She then breaks her rule against liquor being consumed in the building and brings out some bottles and glasses and serves the men drinks. This is how the café starts. Over the course of the following four years it gradually expands: tables and chairs are brought in and meals are served. The café's growth is due largely to Miss Amelia's compassion for Cousin Lymon's fear of the night: the company and pleasure the customers bring help him pass the hours. Six years later Macy returns to town. Cousin Lymon, hearing that he has been to Atlanta and been in jail, becomes infatuated with this dangerous character and follows him around. For his part, Macy shows nothing but contempt and disgust for Lymon. Miss Amelia endures Cousin Lymon's refocused affection, tolerates his giving Macy liquor, puts up with his making fun of her gangly walk, and even bears with his asking Macy to live with them, because she knows that if she were to drive Macy away, she would lose Cousin Lymon. The climax of the story occurs when the hatred between Miss Amelia and Macy explodes in a fist fight. After thirty minutes or so of struggling, Miss Amelia is about to win the fight when Lymon suddenly leaps onto her back and claws at her throat, enabling Macy to get the upper hand. During the night Macy and Lymon destroy the café, steal Miss Amelia's belongings, and break her still; by morning, they have left town. For three years Miss Amelia waits for Cousin Lymon to return. Eventually giving up hope, Amelia boards up the house and locks herself in.
As many critics have pointed out, The Ballad of the Sad Café reflects McCullers's fascination with freaks, misfits, and grotesques. For her, such characters best embodied the loneliness and isolation that she regarded as the basic condition of human existence. Other themes—all of which bear on the novella's central concern with loneliness—include the failure of communication, the anguish of unrequited love, the psychological phenomenon that causes human beings who are worshiped to despise the worshiper, and the redemptive and transformative effects that even transitory and ultimately doomed love can have on an individual and his or her community. Critics note that McCullers was particularly interested in the paradox of shared isolation, a term that describes the relationships among the three main characters and between the three and their community as well.
On the initial publication of The Ballad of the Sad Café, Tennessee Williams wrote that it is "assuredly among the masterpieces of our language in the form of the novella." V. S. Pritchett considered it evidence that McCullers was "the most remarkable novelist... to come out of America for a generation." William Clancy stated that the work's "metaphysical fusion of horror and compassion" represented "an achievement equaled by few other contemporary American writers." The critical reaction has not been unanimously favorable, however. Robert Drake has called The Ballad of the Sad Café "ridiculous . . . with its fabricated primitivistic folkishness." Lawrence Graver has argued that while the novella is "by far the best of Mrs. McCullers's excursions into the grotesque . . . it is not without reminders of the penumbral insistence that mars her worst work," namely the sense that "too much is made of dark nights of the soul and of things going on there that only God can understand." Nonetheless, The Ballad of the Sad Café is generally regarded as one of her best works of fiction. The 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s saw renewed interest in McCullers's body of work. During these decades numerous studies appeared on the novella that focused on issues such as the role of the narrator, the nature of love, the relationship between the text and the traditional ballad form, its mythical qualities, its connection to the Southern Gothic tradition, and its representation of sexuality and gender.
SOURCE: A review of The Ballad of the Sad Café: The Novels and Stories of Carson McCullers, in The New York Herald Tribune, June 10, 1951, pp. 1, 13.
[In the following favorable review, Rosenberger discusses McCullers's short fiction and calls The Ballad of the Sad Café her most intense achievement.]
Here in one omnibus volume, which includes her three novels, a half dozen short stories, and an unfamiliar longer one which gives the volume [The Ballad of the Sad Café: The Novels and Stories of Carson McCullers] its name, is the whole fabulous world of Carson McCullers: the dwarfed and the deformed, the hurt and the lonely, the defeated and the despised, the violent and the homicidal—all the masks and symbols which she has employed over a decade of writing to shock the reader into a shared experience of her own intense sense of human tragedy. When The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter was published in 1940 it was widely recognized as an original and mature work, and the acclaim for it was mixed with mild astonishment that the book should be the work of a twenty-three-year-old writer. Something like that first astonishment is induced by the present collection, which exhibits what an impressive and unified body of work has been produced by Mrs. McCullers at an age when many another writer has hardly started upon his career. For The Ballad of the Sad Café makes...
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SOURCE: "Dinesen's 'Monkey' and McCullers' 'Ballad': A Study in Literary Affinity," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 1, No. 3, Spring, 1964, pp. 184-90.
[In the following essay, Phillips compares Isak Dinesen's short story "The Monkey" (1934) with The Ballad of the Sad Café and argues that Dinesen's tale was a likely source of inspiration for McCullers.]
Originality is the quality most remarkable in the writings of Carson McCullers. Her novels and stories, with their poetic simplicity and Gothic elements, their freakish characters and malevolent plots, hold a unique place in contemporary American literature. Because her work has been unique, the fiction of Mrs. McCullers has been subjected primarily to textual analysis. A few isolated critics have noted the correspondence between Mother Lovejoy, in the 1958 McCullers play, The Square Root of Wonderful, and Amanda Wingfield, of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie (1944). But Square Root has been universally acknowledged to be Mrs. McCullers' least inspired creation. No one, however, has noted the influence of Isak Dinesen upon her work. Especially revealing is a comparison of Miss Dinesen's long story, "The Monkey" [in Seven Gothic Tales, 1934], with Mrs. McCullers' celebrated novella, The Ballad of the Sad Café.
The following discussion is not to be construed as a conjecture that...
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SOURCE: "Carson McCullers' Myth of the Sad Café," in The Georgia Review, Vol. XXI, No. 1, Spring, 1967, pp. 46-56.
[In the following essay, Griffith examines the ways in which McCullers imbues The Ballad of the Sad Café with mythic elements.]
Carson McCullers' The Ballad of the Sad Café is as grotesque in characterization and incident as anything in American literature. The simple summarizing of the situation reveals its perverseness: a dark, masculine, cross-eyed giant of a woman develops strange, possessive love for a dirty, mischievous, hunchbacked dwarf of a man, who in turn worships a handsome, guitar-strumming robber and seducer, who in his turn had previously so desired the giant woman that he had contracted a miserable ten-day unconsummated marriage with her.
Yet the quality of the novella most frequently cited by critics is the mysterious beauty which encompasses the whole work. Even the violence of the denouement—a primitive bare-fisted agon between the woman and her one-time bridegroom over the hunchback—fails to mar the poetic serenity of the tale for most readers. The story as a whole is neither a morbid Gothic monstrosity perpetrated for mere shock effect nor a specimen of the extreme naturalism, a la Erskine Caldwell, sometimes associated with the South. Somehow The Ballad of the Sad Café sublimates its unpromising ingredients....
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SOURCE: Carson McCullers, University of Minnesota Press, 1969, pp. 24-33.
[In the following excerpt, Graver argues that The Ballad of the Sad Café is McCullers's best work of "grotesque" fiction. He concludes, however, that this novella is not quite as fully realized as The Member of the Wedding.]
The Ballad of the Sad Café is a good deal more rewarding [than Reflections in a Golden Eye]. Instead of trying to compete with writers of much greater psychological awareness and architechtonic skill, Mrs. McCullers here wisely moves in a limited area more suited to her talents—the alien, elemental world of legend and romance. Like all good ballads, her story is urgent, atmospheric, and primitive, and yet, in its melodramatic swiftness and simplicity, tells us more things memorable about human life than all the devious sophisticated posturings of Reflections in a Golden Eye.
In the background are the physical facts of life that count for so much in the ballad world: a dingy southern town cut off from the accommodations of civilized society, boundaries of swamps and cold black pinewood, weather that is raw in winter and white with the glare of heat in summer. Only those who must come here: the tax collector to bother the rich; an investigator to refuse credit to Ryan, the weaver; a lost traveler to find his way back to his destination. Decayed buildings...
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SOURCE: "The Presence of the Narrator in Carson McCullers' The Ballad of the Sad Café," in The Mississippi Quarterly, Vol. XXV, Fall, 1972, pp. 419-27.
[In the following essay, Gaillard argues that it is through the consciousness of the narrator in The Ballad of the Sad Café that the reader experiences the mythic qualities of the depicted characters and events.]
The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.
—William Faulkner, Nobel Prize
A voice speaks to us in the first paragraph of Carson McCullers'The Ballad of the Sad Café, a flat, inflectionless voice, adjusted to the dreariness it describes as we go on a walking tour with the speaker to the center of town. There, we find an old house leaning dangerously near collapse. The voice changes. No longer flat and inflectionless, it describes a face which looks down on the town, a face "sexless and white" like those "terrible dim faces known in dreams." And then the voice is flat again as it recalls the present dreariness of the August afternoon when, having nothing to do after work, "you might as well walk down to the Forks Falls Road and listen to the chain gang."
The voice continues. It tells us of a time when things...
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SOURCE: "Carson McCullers' Literary Ballad," in The Georgia Review, Vol. XXVII, No. 3, Fall, 1973, pp. 329-39.
[In the following essay, Millichap argues that the musical ballad form provides the key to understanding The Ballad of the Sad Café.]
Carson McCullers' novels, particularly The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940) and Member of the Wedding (1946), often have been misread as Gothic and grotesque fictions, categories derived by critics from her works in these modes, Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941) and Ballad of the Sad Café (1943). Strangely enough, the same critics, intent on demonstrating their Procrustean theories in all of her work, often misunderstand Ballad by insisting on the universality of elements which are obviously peculiar to the point of aberration. The use of the bizarre theory of love offered by the narrator of Ballad as a formula for interpreting all of McCullers' fiction has hampered analysis not only of the novella itself but of her other works as well. The description of her narrative as a ballad, so obviously presented in the title, provides a key to understanding which unlocks the novella's difficulties of literary mode, point-of-view, characterization, and plot structure.
The literary ballad evolved from the ballad of tradition, which in turn is rooted in folklore, because the literary...
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SOURCE: "The Introspective Narrator in The Ballad of the Sad Café," in South Atlantic Bulletin, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 4, November, 1973, pp. 40-4.
[In the following essay, McNally examines the point-of-view of the narration in The Ballad of the Sad Café, arguing that when the reader views the narrator as "a character in the story, he notices a subtle but significant shift in the story's form and subsequent themes."]
Carson McCullers' novella, The Ballad of the Sad Café, is intriguing for a number of reasons. First there is the incredibly grotesque gallery of characters who people the little dreary town in which the story takes place. Then, of course, there is the enigmatic epilogue, "The Twelve Mortal Men," which seems at first glance to have been an after-thought of the author. And there is the disturbing plot with its love triangle so reminiscent of Sartre's curious ménage à trois in No Exit. But perhaps the most disturbing feature of the whole novella is the point of view which informs the piece.
On the surface of it, the narration ofThe Ballad of the Sad Café is third-person omniscient with an occasional authorial intrusion. The narration employs the present tense for three introductory paragraphs, shifts to the past tense for the whole flashback section—virtually the whole story unfolds in this section and returns to the...
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SOURCE: "Rejection of the Feminine in Carson McCullers' The Ballad of the Sad Café" in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 20, No. 1, January, 1974, pp. 34-43.
[In the following essay, Broughton asserts that the characters in The Ballad of the Sad Café regard tenderness and the expression of emotion as inherently feminine and, for that reason, "weak" qualities. She argues that their attitudes toward the feminine cause them to reject qualities that are essential to the survival of the human community.]
Well over a century has passed since Alexis de Tocqueville astutely observed that compulsive individualism, so idealized in America, might indeed foster personal isolation. Tocqueville surmised that the inescapable isolation of the individual American was as much economic as political and that, though its causes might indeed be material, its ultimate significance was spiritual; for Tocqueville concluded that, as it throws a man "back forever upon himself alone, [democracy] threatens in the end to confine [that man] entirely within the solitude of his own heart" [Democracy in America, Vol. II, edited by Phillips Bradley, 1963].
The spiritual solitude Tocqueville sensed in the America of the 1830's has hardly lessened with the passage of years. Indeed, as our literature of alienation abundantly testifies, man's sense of isolation has been exacerbated in the intervening...
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SOURCE: "The Ballad of the Sad Café," in Carson McCullers, Frederick Unger, 1975, pp. 84-104.
[In the following excerpt, Cook suggests that The Ballad of the Sad Café celebrates the capacity of love to transform a community and is an elegy to the ephemerality of such love.]
After working on drafts of The Member of the Wedding for two years, in the fall of 1943 Carson McCullers interrupted her work, took a trip to Saratoga Springs and in six weeks' time wrote what is now her best-known work, The Ballad of the Sad Café. Like McCullers's other novels, The Ballad of the Sad Café is the story of lonely people falling in love; but it is more than that. It is a celebration of the power of love itself and an elegy on its passing. It is, as the title indicates, a ballad, a short oral tale, transcribed into written prose, that in Frankie's words has a beginning and an end, a shape like a song—a song about love and its miraculous effect on a town and its inhabitants. Using such traditional ballad motifs as natural and supernatural signs, magic potions, and grotesque characters resembling birds and animals, McCullers tells the story of a strange and tragic love affair between a mannish giant of a woman, Miss Amelia Evans, and a hunchback dwarf, Cousin Lymon, that turns a small backwater town in Georgia into a stage of high, albeit bizarre, drama and romance. The extreme...
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SOURCE: "Moods and Absences," in Carson McCullers, Chelsea House Publishers 1986, pp. 77-85.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1977, Gray argues that the sense of isolation that permeates McCullers's fiction—which he claims has often been commented upon but never satisfactorily accounted for—is attributable to her having produced most of her fiction in a transitory period between the "renaissance" in Southern fiction and its "new wave, " as well as to specifics of her childhood. He further states that The Ballad of the Sad Café exemplifies the ways in which McCullers created a new kind of fiction, one cut off from recognizable tradition, out of what was familiar to her.]
There is a peculiar quality of isolation about Carson McCullers's work, frequently remarked upon but never properly explained, that owes some of its intensity perhaps to her own status vis-à-vis the South. She does not belong to the great generation of the "renaissance," that is clear enough: indeed, she was only twelve years old when The Sound and the Fury was published, and her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, did not appear until after the beginning of the Second World War. But she does not really belong to the new wave of southern writers either, since apart from Clock Without Hands—a book dealing, among other things, with the issue of desegregation, which was...
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SOURCE: "The Ballad of the Sad Café, " in Carson McCullers, Twayne Publishers, 1980, pp. 65-79.
[In the following excerpt, McDowell provides an overview of The Ballad of the Sad Café, addressing topics such as the novella's combination of comic and tragic elements, the relation between the story and McCullers's personal life, and its mythical, Gothic, and ballad-like features.]
In The Ballad of the Sad Café McCullers achieved an intricate blending of the real and the mythic, of the comic and the desolate, and of the provincial and the universal. She attained in this short novel an extraordinary compression, control, objectivity, and sense of proportion. The narrative voice speaks at times in archaic diction and at times in a tone of leisured elegance; at still other times, in a pithy colloquial idiom. Though the three principal characters are grotesques, rather than fully-developed human beings and the villagers are not individualized, the "balladeer's" compassion for them pervades this book, as does his quiet humor when he pauses in the narrative to comment upon their inexplicable, eccentric, and often perverse behavior.
I. A Turbulent Relationship
Kay Boyle declared The Ballad of the Sad Café a work in which an author "accepted the responsibility of being artisan as well as sensitive artist" ["I Wish I Had Written The Ballad...
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SOURCE: "McCullers' Ballad of the Sad Café," in The Explicator, Vol. 41, No. 1, Fall, 1982, pp. 59-60.
[In the following essay, Gannon argues that the final paragraph in The Ballad of the Sad Café—in which the chain gang from the beginning of the novella reappears—"recounts, in the manner of an envoy, the whole ballad. "]
Carson McCullers' Ballad of the Sad Café is bracketed with the observation that the town is dreary. The narrator suggests in the introduction and again in the closing lines that one listen to the chain gang, presumably for diversion. But in the introduction the gang's appearance is a promise; in the final paragraph the gang actually recounts, in the manner of an envoy, the whole ballad. The envoy sketches successive concepts of an empty or fallow time, a time of incipience, increase, crest, and a relapse and return to greater emptiness. The overall concept of the ballad and of the envoy is cyclical; the beginning and ending of both are congruent.
The ballad opens in uneventful monotony. There is no way even to guess what effect any change would have. The envoy's counterpoint is morning at the work station, with no oral evidence of the men—only the sound of their tools. In the ballad, the distant appearance one evening of the small figure of the hunchback is echoed by the envoy's solitary, inquiring voice which begins to sing. There...
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SOURCE: "Carson McCullers' Amazon Nightmare," in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 28, No. 3, Autumn, 1982, pp. 465-73.
[In the following essay, Westling argues that while many feminist critics have demonstrated an interest in androgynous characters, the nature of McCullers's Miss Amelia has not been adequately examined. She argues that this character's "freakishness" represents an ambivalence McCullers's part toward female identity.]
Miss Amelia Evans is a monstrous creature, really, and yet Carson McCullers lavished admiring care in picturing her many talents, her forbidding strength, and her control of the squalid village world of The Ballad of the Sad Café (1943). Despite a good bit of critical attention to the novella and recent feminist interest in androgynous characters in literature, Miss Amelia's freakishness has not been seriously examined. It is crucial to the meaning of this grotesque fable, relating it closely to The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and The Member of the Wedding. McCullers [in The Mortgaged Heart] said that "Love, and especially love of a person who is incapable of returning or receiving it, is at the heart of my selection of grotesque figures to write about—people whose physical incapacity is a symbol of their spiritual incapacity to love or receive lov—their spiritual isolation." But Miss Amelia's peculiarities are more specific than mere "spiritual...
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SOURCE: "Two Voices of the Single Narrator in The Ballad of the Sad Café" in The Southern Literary Journal Vol. XVII, No. 2, Spring, 1985, pp. 33-40.
[In the following essay, Dazey argues that the narrator of The Ballad of the Sad Café has two distinct voices: one that interprets the story and laments the town and the actions of the characters, and one that tells the story in a relatively objective manner.]
When The Ballad of the Sad Café was first published in Harper's Bazaar in 1943, Carson McCullers was twenty-six, and at that time most critics pointed to the work as evidence of the great promise of the young writer. Today, however, it is ranked along with The Member of the Wedding as her most successful work. McCullers' choosing to call the sad, romantic tale a ballad has caused many to discuss her ballad style in some fashion. In his work Carson McCullers, Lawrence Graver, for example, concludes that The Ballad of the Sad Café is one of her most "rewarding works" in part because she employed "a relaxed colloquial style, punctuating the narrative with phrases like 'time must pass' and 'so do not forget.'" Ironically, Dayton Kohler, eighteen years earlier [in "Carson McCullers: Variations on a Theme," College English, 13 (1951)], had selected these identical lines as evidence of McCullers' "stylistic coyness," which he called "poetically...
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SOURCE: "McCullers' The Ballad of the Sad Café," in The Explicator, Vol. 46, No. 2, Winter, 1988, pp. 36-8.
[In the following essay, Stebbins briefly discusses the final section of The Ballad of the Sad Café, arguing that this "coda" demonstrates the harmony that is possible, however temporarily, between human beings.]
In The Ballad of the Sad Café, Carson McCullers shows us a carefully crafted world where people struggle to escape the isolation that oppresses each of them. The Ballad's famous love passage predicts that each person will use love for another as his or her means of escape. McCullers' skillful use of settings—the town, the cafe with its upper rooms, the ventures away from the cafe—further the theme of isolation and this quest for love. Everything in The Ballad, save the key final scene in which McCullers offers a note of hope, centers around the cafe. As the protagonist, Miss Amelia, is finally left alone inside her inner rooms, so the cafe is left alone, slowly deteriorating. The relationships initiated by Cousin Lymon cannot last. As the love passage explains, the lover who must escape to the outer world through love does so by attempting to absorb and enclose the beloved, as Miss Amelia attempts to enclose Cousin Lymon in her inner world. This in itself is a paradox. These relationships, essentially social, are doomed. Individual relationships...
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SOURCE: "Fighting for Life: The Women's Cause," in No Man's Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, Volume 1: The War of the Words, Yale University Press, 1988, pp. 104-12.
[In the following excerpt, Gilbert and Gubar argue that The Ballad of the Sad Café dramatizes the retribution exacted on a woman who attempts to rebel against patriarchal social conventions.]
McCullers shows in her dreamlike mythic narrative of The Ballad of the Sad Cafe the culturally determined psychic logic that condemns the autonomous woman as a freak who must necessarily be sentenced to the defeat that is femininity. In fact, like her friend and contemporary Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers seems to stand outside the constructs of gender in order to demonstrate, as Williams did in Streetcar, the pain of what Adrienne Rich has called "compulsory heterosexuality" ["Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence," Signs (1980)]. But even more than Williams does in Streetcar, McCullers focuses in "Ballad" on the terrifying revenge that the law of the phallus inflicts on those (women) who defy its imperatives. Specifically, she dramatizes the punishment meted out to a woman who has arrogantly supposed that she could live in a no man's land—first without a real man, and then with a dwarfish no-man.
At the beginning of Ballad, Miss Amelia Evans...
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SOURCE: "The Ballad of the Sad Café, " in Understanding Carson McCullers, University of South Carolina Press, 1990, pp. 53-71.
[In the following essay, Carr introduces The Ballad of the Sad Café, discussing, among other things, thematic parallels between the novella and McCullers's other fiction, connections between McCullers's life and work, and the critical response to the novella.]
The monotony and boredom that permeated [McCullers's] life with her husband in 1939 before their move from Fayetteville, North Carolina, contributed not only to the completion of Reflections in a Golden Eye, but also to her novella, The Ballad of the Sad Café, published for the first time in 1943 in a single issue of Harper's Bazaar. More important to the story line of the tale than McCullers's southern discomfort, however, was her predicament in New York in 1940 and 1941. She had hoped for a committed relationship with her new friend Annemarie Clarac-Schwarzenbach, having fallen deeply in love with her, but it became apparent to McCullers soon after their involvement that nothing further would develop.
To suffer in despair was her destiny as a mortal, she reasoned, turning once more to fiction to express what she saw as her truths. Although McCullers had been working for many months on a manuscript that she referred to as "The Bride and Her Brother," its design and...
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Allen, Walter. "Welty, McCullers, Taylor, Flannery O'Connor." In The Short Story in English, pp. 313-18. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981.
Argues that McCullers's "extremely idiosyncratic view of human beings" is most successfully articulated in The Ballad of the Sad Café.
Baldanza, Frank. "Plato in Dixie." The Georgia Review 12 (Summer 1958): 151-67.
Discusses the use of Platonic parables in southern fiction, remarking that the theory of love expounded by the narrator of The Ballad of the Sad Café is reminiscent of Plato's Socratic dialogue, Phaedrus (c. 5th-4th century BC).
Dodd, Wayne D. "The Development of Theme through Symbol in the Novels of Carson McCullers." The Georgia Review XVII, No. 2 (Summer 1963): 206-13.
Argues that there is "a suggestive and developmental symbolism" in McCullers's work that "always emphasizes the discreteness of individuals from each other and from God himself." Dodd notes that the half-painted house in The Ballad of the Sad Café is symbolic of McCullers's contention that human beings can have only an incomplete and partial understanding of others.
Edmonds, Dale. Carson McCullers, pp. 19-23. Austin, TX: Steck-Vaughn Company, 1969.
Discusses the musical, ballad-like elements of The Ballad of the Sad...
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