Study Guide

Wunderkind

by Carson McCullers

Wunderkind Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The “she” to whom the reader is introduced in the first paragraph, as she enters the living room of Mr. Bilderbach’s house, in no way seems to be the Wunderkind of this story. Indeed, as she enters the room her music satchel is described as “plopping against her winter-stockinged legs,” her attention is “scattered” by “restlessness,” she fumbles with her books, her fingers quiver, and her “sight [is] sharpened [by] fear that had begun to torment her for the past few months.” Perhaps, then, this is the story of the young girl as she becomes a Wunderkind. However, she is described as mumbling “phrases of encouragement” to herself, telling herself over and over: “A good lesson—a good lesson—like it used to be.” Her name is Frances, the reader learns, and she is fifteen, having arrived for her Tuesday afternoon piano lesson; she is early and must wait until Mr. Bilderbach and Mr. Lafkowitz finish playing a recently acquired sonatina.

Carson McCullers thus sets the stage and situates her characters—with Frances sitting in Mr. Bilderbach’s living room—so that, through a series of flashbacks (told from Frances’s point of view through a third-person, limited omniscient narrative voice), which extend back to the time when Frances was twelve and began her lessons with Mr. Bilderbach, the author can nudge the reader toward understanding the cause of her protagonist’s apparent angst and fear over having lost what “used to be.”

This particular Tuesday had begun badly for Frances when, after she had practiced at her piano for two hours, her father made her eat breakfast with the rest of her family: He “had put a fried egg on her plate and she had known that if it burst—so that the slimy yellow oozed over the white—she would cry.” This, in fact, had happened, and “the same feeling was upon her now,” as she sits in her teacher’s living room and looks at a magazine wherein a photograph of her friend, Heime, appears. He had studied the violin with Mr. Lafkowitz, and he had played in a concert with Frances (the critics had praised his performance but criticized hers). He, like Frances, had been called a Wunderkind for his early apparent and great talent. Heime had gone to Pennsylvania (where he is during the time of this story) to study with another, presumably more advanced teacher than Mr. Lafkowitz. Now he has had his photograph and a brief biography published in a magazine devoted to music and outstanding musicians. Indeed, Heime’s obvious and praised success intensifies Frances’s growing doubts about her own ability to realize her early promise as a Wunderkind at the piano and to become a professional instead of merely a talented student.

Her dreadful...

(The entire section is 1122 words.)

Wunderkind Summary

Frances’s Arrival
‘‘Wunderkind’’ takes place on a winter afternoon in Cincinnati, Ohio, presumably in the 1930s...

(The entire section is 2601 words.)