The Member of the Wedding Essay - Critical Evaluation

Carson McCullers

Critical Evaluation

All of Carson McCullers’s fiction turns on the theme of loneliness and longing as the inescapable condition of humanity. In The Member of the Wedding, the issues of the larger world are reflected in the experiences of the twelve-year-old girl trapped in the confusion of her own adolescence. The novel tells the story of several decisive days in the life of Frankie Addams, and much of the meaning of her plight is made clear in her random talk with Berenice Sadie Brown and John Henry West as the three sit around the table in the kitchen of the Addams house. Frankie seizes upon her soldier brother’s approaching wedding to will herself into the social community, only to discover that the bride and groom must by necessity reject her and that she must learn to fend for herself.

In the story of Frankie, the writer has reduced the total idea of moral isolation to a fable of simple outlines and a few eloquently dramatic scenes, set against a background of adolescent mood and discovery familiar to everyone. It is easy enough to understand why this novel has also been a success in dramatic form. The play of the same name, written by McCullers, is a sympathetic study of inward conflicts. It received two Donaldson Awards and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1950.

Throughout her career as a novelist, short-story writer, and playwright, McCullers explored the human condition from several perspectives, but all with the common focus of loneliness and dissatisfaction. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940) reveals the isolation of a “deaf-mute” in a southern town, and it draws parallels to the phenomenon of fascism. Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941) also takes place in the South, but The Member of the Wedding explores anxieties in finer detail. The Ballad of the Sad Café, and Collected Short Stories (1952) includes the famous novella of the title, which was dramatized by Edward Albee in 1963, twenty years after it was first published. McCullers’s last two works were The Square Root of Wonderful (1957), a play, and Clock Without Hands (1961), a novel. McCullers’s unpublished works, including some early poetry, appeared posthumously in 1971 under the title The Mortgaged Heart.

Although The Member of the Wedding certainly deals with themes of loneliness and dissatisfaction, the story is quite interesting as a discussion of the means through which a particular individual attempts to escape these isolating emotions. This psychological novel is enhanced by McCullers’s masterful handling of language and point of view. Although the narrative is not in the first person, the language makes it clear that Frankie’s viewpoint is of primary concern. The result is that one is able both to observe Frankie objectively and at the same time to appreciate her emotions immediately. Frankie’s feelings are, in addition, juxtaposed with the intrusion of adult observation (most often from Berenice and Mr. Addams)...

(The entire section is 1230 words.)