The Play (Masterplots II: Drama)
The Member of the Wedding begins as the lights gradually reveal a kitchen in which Berenice Sadie Brown is preparing refreshments, and a backyard where Mr. Addams and his daughter, Frankie, are entertaining Jarvis Addams and his fiancee, Janice. Their wedding is to be two days later, on Sunday. Also present is John Henry West, Frankie’s cousin, who lives next door. Frankie rushes to serve the couple and then perches at their feet.
When Janice asks about music from a nearby girls’ clubhouse, Frankie admits that she is not yet a member but soon hopes to be. After the couple leaves, Berenice, John Henry, and Frankie begin their usual card game, but soon stop because John Henry has cut the pictures from the jacks and queens. With nothing to do, Frankie is restless; she has outgrown playing with the neighborhood children and does not want the doll Jarvis has brought her. When the club girls tell her that Mary Littlejohn is the new member, Frankie is crushed. In her frustration, she turns to thoughts of Janice and Jarvis. Suddenly, she realizes that both their names begin with J and a. Wanting her name to fit this pattern, she changes it to F. Jasmine Addams.
Concerned about her friendless condition, Frankie worries about becoming a freak because of her height. When John Henry irritates her, she sends him home. Trying to raise Frankie’s spirits, Berenice starts teasing her about having a crush on the wedding; in retaliation, Frankie angrily throws a carving knife at the bedroom door and threatens to leave home after the ceremony.
When Berenice leaves for the evening with Honey Brown and T.T. Williams, Frankie again feels excluded. She invites John Henry back to spend the night but then thinks of a solution to her loneliness: She will go with Jarvis and Janice after the wedding. She realizes that she has been an “I” person too long; she belongs with her brother and Janice “because they are the we of me.”
Act 2 opens on the afternoon of the next day; Frankie, missing all morning, informs Berenice and John Henry that she has been to town to buy her wedding clothes and to tell everyone of her plans to be a member of the wedding.
Berenice decides that Frankie’s wedding infatuation can be cured if she has a beau of her own, such as Barney MacKean, whom Frankie, however, calls “nasty.” When T.T. and Honey arrive collecting for a friend’s funeral expenses, Frankie models her wedding clothes for them: an obviously...
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Dramatic Devices (Masterplots II: Drama)
The structure of The Member of the Wedding differs from standard dramatic format in that the antagonist is not a character but an abstraction: loneliness. Moreover, most of the dramatic action (the wedding, Frankie’s attempt to accompany the newlyweds, and John Henry’s and Honey’s deaths) occurs offstage and is reported to the audience. The audience’s attention, therefore, is directed to the emotional effects of these events on the characters rather than to the events themselves.
The first two acts move slowly and consist mainly of digressive, disjointed conversation among Berenice, Frankie, and John Henry, revealing Frankie’s unsettled condition as well as the lack of real communion among the three. Frankie’s movements correspond to her moods: When troubled by the piano tuner, she paces; when fantasizing about joining her brother’s wedding, she runs. The tempo of act 3 is much faster: The three short scenes parallel the play’s rapid changes and quicken the rhythm through a staccato effect.
The play’s costuming also aids characterization. As a tomboy, Frankie wears shorts and a sombrero; as F. Jasmine, she wears an orange satin evening dress to match her fantasies. T.T. Williams’ black, church-deacon suit fits his placid demeanor, while Honey Brown’s loud-colored, snappy clothes publicize his volatile nature. Berenice’s blue glass eye perhaps represents a wish to identify with white society.
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Georgia town. Unnamed and typically southern community that is Frankie’s hometown. Frankie spends much of this hot August weekend walking to town, downtown to her father’s jewelry store just off the main street, for example, and later to Sugarville, the Black section of town where Berenice Sadie Brown and her mother live, and to the Blue Moon, a bar where Frankie has her adventures with the red-haired soldier.
Addams home. Small house on 124 Grove Street, some blocks from the main section of town. Frankie, her cousin John Henry West, aged six, and the Addams’s cook Berenice have spent the summer sitting in the Addams’s kitchen, playing cards and talking. If Frankie feels stuck between childhood and adolescence, this house, with John Henry’s childlike drawings on the kitchen walls, and Frankie’s sleeping-porch bedroom, perfectly reflects her condition. At the end of the novel, Frankie’s father decides to move her to another house on the outskirts of town with relatives, which signals the changes that have occurred in Frankie.
Winter Hill. Georgia site of the wedding of Frankie’s brother Jarvis and Janice Evans, and the goal of all Frankie’s dreams. Frankie plans to break out of her preadolescent jail by joining Jarvis and Janice on their honeymoon; after the wedding her father has to drag her out of their car. Winter Hill (like much of the novel’s imagery) thus symbolizes the freedom that maturity will bring, in contrast to Frankie’s hot, last summer of childhood.
Form and Content (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
This female initiation story is told in three parts and focuses on the changes that take place inside the maturing twelve-year-old who has called herself Frankie until she decides to become a member of the wedding. In part 2, she is F. Jasmine and believes that she is destined for an exciting life with Jarvis and Janice. By part 3, she has left her childish self behind and is referring to herself as Frances.
All of the events of part 1 as well as much of the past take place in the kitchen of the Addams home. Berenice’s domain has become a precious and private sanctuary where Berenice, Frankie, and John Henry have spent most of the summer prior to the wedding. After Jarvis and Janice come for lunch on the last Friday of August, Frankie’s thoughts and conversation are totally centered on the wedding; Berenice accuses her of actually being in love with the wedding. That evening, after Frankie decides that she is a member of the wedding and that she will begin her new life by going with the couple on their honeymoon, she is a different, more confident person and changes her name to F. Jasmine.
Part 2 describes this new F. Jasmine, who spends the entire next day sharing her good news and looking at the town and at her former life as if she has already left them behind. For the first time in her life, she enters the Blue Moon, a place that has always fascinated her because it is forbidden to children but is enjoyed by soldiers on holiday and the grown and the free. In the bar, F. Jasmine sees for the first time the red-headed stranger with whom she exchanges an immediate look of recognition.
As the clock at the Baptist Church strikes twelve, she hears the sound of the organ and sets out to find the monkey-man. The now-drunk red-haired soldier is trying to force the old man to sell him the monkey. F....
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Context (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Frankie, in this coming-of-age story published in 1946, still serves as an effective role model for young postmodern women; McCullers’ handling of gender identity and racial differences deserves particular attention.
Like her contemporaries Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty, McCullers is fascinated with freaks and other “grotesque” aspects of Southern life. Frankie is concerned that she is or will become a freak; a favorite topic of conversation for her and John Henry is the half-man, half-woman in the freak show at the county fair. The androgynous name Frankie wears is born out of her attire, her boy’s haircut, all of her favorite activities, and her conception of the ideal world in which everyone could change from boy to girl and back to boy at will—just as her cat changes from Charlie to Charlina. Having grown four inches in the past year, she calculates that she will be nine feet tall by the time she is eighteen. Her fears that she will be a physical freak are enforced by her fascination with knives and her worries about the “criminal deed” that she has committed in stealing a knife at Sears. All of her fears are compounded in her fear that she has killed the soldier who has attempted to treat her body as that of an adult woman. These issues, along with her father’s indifference and rejection, are perfect for feminist psychoanalysts.
McCullers’ loving portrayal of Berenice provides a significant commentary on racial...
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Compare and Contrast
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Carr, Virginia Spencer. The Lonely Hunter: A Biography of Carson McCullers, 1975.
Carr, Virginia Spencer, and Joseph R. Millichap. “Carson McCullers,” in American Women Writers: Bibliographic Essays, 1983.
Clurman, Harold. Lies Like Truth, 1958.
Clurman, Harold. “Some Preliminary Notes for The Member of the Wedding,” in Directors on Directing: A Source Book of the Modern Theater, 1963.
Dedmon, F.B. “Doing Her Own Thing: Carson McCullers’ Dramatization of The Member of the Wedding,” in South Atlantic...
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