Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In the summer of her twelfth year, Frankie Addams feels isolated and disconnected. She is a lanky girl with a crew haircut and skinned elbows. Some of the older girls she has played with the year before have a neighborhood club, and there are parties with boys on Saturday nights, but Frankie is not a participant. That summer, she gets herself into so much trouble that at last she just stays home with John Henry West, her little cousin, and Berenice Sadie Brown, the Addams’s cook. Through long, hot afternoons, they sit in the dingy, sad Addams kitchen and play cards or talk until their words sound strange, with little meaning.
Berenice Sadie Brown is short and black and the only mother Frankie has ever known, her own mother having died when she was born. The cook has been married four times, and during one of her marriages, she lost an eye while fighting with a worthless husband. Now she owns a blue glass eye that always interests John Henry West. He is six years old and wears gold-rimmed glasses. Sometimes Frankie grows tired of him and sends him home. Sometimes she begs him to stay all night. Everything seems so mixed up that she seldom knows what she wants.
Then, on the last Friday in August, something happens that makes life wonderful once more. Frankie’s brother, Jarvis, a soldier home from Alaska, has come to dinner with Janice Evans, a girl who lives at Winter Hill. They are to be married there on Sunday, and Frankie and her father are going to the wedding. After dinner, Janice and Jarvis return to Winter Hill. Mr. Addams goes downtown to his jewelry store. Later, while she sits playing cards with Berenice and John Henry, Frankie thinks of her brother and his bride. Winter Hill becomes all mixed up in her mind with snow and icy glaciers in Alaska.
Jarvis and Janice bring Frankie a doll, but she has no time for dolls anymore. John Henry could have it. She wishes her hair were not so short; she looks like one of the freaks from the Chattahoochee Exposition. Suddenly angry, she chases John Henry home. When Berenice teases her, saying that Frankie is jealous of the wedding, Frankie declares that she is going to Winter Hill and never coming back. For a minute, she wants to throw a kitchen knife at the black cook. Instead, she hurls it at the stairway door. Berenice goes out with Honey Camden Brown, her foster brother, and T. T. Williams, her beau. Honey is not quite right in the head, and Berenice is always trying to keep him out of trouble. T. T. owns a black restaurant. Frankie does not realize that the cook’s pity for the unhappy, motherless girl keeps her from marrying T. T.
Left alone, Frankie wanders around the block to the house where John Henry lives with Aunt Pet and Uncle Eustace. Somewhere close by, a horn begins to play a blues tune. Frankie feels so sad and lonely that she wants to do something she has never done before. She thinks again of Jarvis and Janice. She is going to be a member of the wedding;...
(The entire section is 1213 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In The Member of the Wedding, attention is concentrated on twelve-year-old Frankie Addams, her six-year-old cousin John Henry West, and Berenice Sadie Brown, a middle-aged black housekeeper. Their card-playing, eating, and talking in the kitchen during the last weekend of August constitute most of the action. It has been a bad summer for Frankie. Her best friend has moved away, she is too big to curl up beside her father in bed, and she belongs to no group. A lonely heart, she searches for “the we of me.” In part 1, she latches onto the notion that she can join her brother and his bride after their wedding.
In part 2, she changes her name to F. Jasmine Addams and begins to believe that she belongs. She senses a fellow feeling with everyone she meets in town, including a soldier who buys her a drink at the Blue Moon and makes a date with her for that night.
Back home in the kitchen that afternoon, Berenice argues against Frankie’s plans for the wedding. To show how foolishly people are served by unrealistic ideas of love, she tells of her four marriages. The first had been blissful, but, widowed, she married a succession of no-good men simply because they reminded her of her first husband. The last husband gouged out one of her eyes in a fight. Berenice’s deep voice draws sympathy if not understanding from Frankie. Sometimes they break into song together, with John Henry’s high notes sailing overhead and Frankie’s voice...
(The entire section is 577 words.)