Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Written in a matter of weeks, Reflections in a Golden Eye demonstrates the range of McCullers’s talent. Here she goes beyond the realism that made her first novel so endearing and delves into a surreal world of dark, psychic impulses. Passions seethe beneath the rigid but fragile surface of military life on an Army post in peacetime. Six characters figure in the story.
Captain Weldon Penderton, an impotent, middle-aged man with homosexual inclinations, is married to the beautiful Leonora, daughter of the fort’s former commander. Leonora is having an affair with a neighbor, Major Morris Langdon. Langdon’s wife, Alison, cut off her own nipples with garden shears while mourning the death of a deformed baby. Morris and Leonora pass the time riding horseback and making love in a blackberry patch, while Alison, a virtual shut-in, spends her days listening to classical music with her Filipino houseboy, Anacleto.
Private Williams, a mysterious young man with an affinity for animals, becomes Leonora’s favorite stable boy. He cares for her high-spirited stallion, Firebird. One afternoon, while Williams is sunbathing nude on a rock in the woods, Weldon, a poor horseman, takes Firebird out for a ride. As Williams looks on, the stallion breaks into a gallop that Weldon cannot control. Losing his balance, he slides out of the saddle and is dragged some distance. When Firebird finally stops, Weldon whips him viciously with the branch of a...
(The entire section is 563 words.)
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Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Reflections in a Golden Eye opens with a brief narrative establishing that because of “insularity” and excess “leisure and safety” army posts during peacetime are dull. After establishing the setting, the narrator lists “two officers, a soldier, two women, a Filipino, and a horse” as participants of a murder that occurred in a particular Southern fort.
The events that occur in the novel lead to the murder mentioned in the beginning passages. The plot is developed primarily through character development rather than through action. The characters in the novel are geographically connected by virtue of their position at the army post. They are also united and estranged psychologically, emotionally, and sexually.
The characters are involved in myriad sexual identities, including adultery, bisexuality, and bestiality. Private Ellgee Williams is afraid of women because as a child he was told they carry ailing diseases and will send him to hell. Sexually attracted to animals, he works in the stables. Williams stares at Leonora through her window and enters her room at night to watch her sleep.
Captain Weldon Penderton is married to Leonora, and although they share hostile feelings each for the other, Leonora provides a shield for his latent homosexual desires. The sexually impotent Penderton is attracted to women and men, but he is most attracted to the men who find his wife attractive. Penderton is also a masochist....
(The entire section is 450 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Seven characters are involved in a murder on a Southern U.S. Army post: “two officers, a soldier, two women, a Filipino, and a horse.” The soldier is Private Ellgee Williams, a clean-living man who has neither friends nor enemies and is assigned to the stables because he is good with horses. One of the officers is Captain Weldon Penderton, who is married to Leonora Penderton. He knows that his wife has lovers, and he often becomes enamored of them. He asks for a soldier to be sent to clear some woods behind his house. The soldier is Private Williams, whom Penderton already dislikes because the young man had once spilled coffee on a new and expensive suit. Williams clears the woods thoroughly, cutting back a tree that Penderton did not want cut.
This evening, the Pendertons are expecting dinner guests, Major Morris Langdon and his wife, Alison. Major Langdon is Leonora Penderton’s latest lover, and Captain Penderton is also interested in him. As they prepare for the guests, Penderton criticizes his wife for not wearing shoes, and she strips naked in front of him, making him furious. As she strips, Private Williams passes by the window and sees her.
Williams had never before seen a naked woman. His father, a Holiness preacher, reared him to believe that women carry deadly diseases. Therefore, Williams always avoids women. In fact, he has no real attachments to anyone. After he sees the scene between the Pendertons, he stays and watches their dinner party through the window. The next day, Private Williams is different. He is thinking of other times he had behaved spontaneously. There was the time he bought a cow his family did not need. There was the time he felt moved by the spirit at a revival, and the time he committed a crime. His enlistment in the Army had also been a spontaneous act. He knew he was about to do something unpredictable again.
For two weeks he observes the captain’s house and its patterns. Then he goes to the windows and looks in, observing a blackjack game between Leonora and Major Langdon. Leonora cannot add the cards; she has to be told whether she wins or loses a game. Langdon asks his wife if she had seen her friend, Lieutenant Weincheck, that day. She replies that she had, and she and Leonora discuss the lieutenant’s interest in art and music, an interest that Alison, but none of the rest of them, share.
Alison Langdon is ill, both physically and emotionally. She has a weak heart. Her husband’s infidelity leaves her depressed and ailing. The death of their baby, Catherine, three years previously, had weakened her...
(The entire section is 1059 words.)