Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama)
The Member of the Wedding is about the isolation of people and their search for love and acceptance to correct this condition. Related minor themes concerning death, race, time, and war also are treated.
The play focuses on Frankie, caught in the awkward transition between a child and an adult. She is too old for dolls and yet too young to understand the “nasty lies about married people” that the older girls tell. She is also motherless, her father is preoccupied, her older brother has been away in the army, and her best friend has moved. She also has little in common with Berenice or John Henry. Frankie’s outward toughness fails to mask her vulnerability. Her desire to belong suddenly crystallizes when she sees Jarvis and Janice’s special relationship.
Death is another cause of isolation, especially for Mr. Addams, a longtime widower, and Mr. and Mrs. West, who lose their only son during the play. Berenice’s loneliness stems from the death of her first husband, with whom she had a loving relationship.
Racial isolation becomes another subtheme, developed through Berenice, T.T., and Honey. Frankie’s comment to Berenice about death, that “it must be terrible to be nothing but black, black, black,” and Berenice’s answer, “Yes, baby,” coming immediately after Mr. Addams’ confrontation with Honey, have ironic application also to the plight of the Southern black at this time. In this play, blacks either attempt to gain acceptance from the white community by acting submissively, as do Berenice and T.T., or defy it, as does Honey. The latter action, however, always brings disastrous results.
The rapidity with which life-changing events can occur is another focus of the play. After months in which nothing happens, suddenly Janice and Jarvis are to be married in two days. Only several months later, John Henry and Honey are dead, Frankie and her father are moving, and Berenice is not going with them. As Frankie says, “The world is certainly—a sudden place.”