What is the theme of "The Sojourner" by Carson McCullers?

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Michael Otis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Sojourner", is an early short story by 'southern gothic' author Carson McCullers, best known for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, a novel which is concerned with the theme of the fragility of human relationships. This is also the theme of "The Sojourner". It tells the story of John Ferris, a globetrotting journalist returned to the United States on the occasion of his father's funeral. While waiting in New York for his flight back to Europe, Ferris happens to catch sight of his ex-wife, Elizabeth who he trails for blocks without speaking to, and who invites him to dinner after he impulsively telephones her. The dinner party with Elizabeth, her new husband, Bill Bailey, and their well-mannered son, Billy, is pleasant enough, but it is shot through with unreality, transitoriness, and loss, especially when Billy learns, peevishly, that his mother and John were once married. In response to the domestic stability he finds Elizabeth now enjoys, Ferris portrays his current affair with Parisian amour, Jeannine, as on the brink of marriage, but in reality it is just the most recent in a long string of girlfriends since his divorce; and he doesn't even like her son, Valentin. As the story ends, Ferris is back in Paris, insincerely trying to establish a more affectionate relationshp with Valentin.

As Ferris makes himself comfortable at the Bailey dinner party, Elizabeth remarks:   

"But surely, John, you'll be staying home one of these days before long. You're not going to be an expatriate, are you?"

"Expatriate," Ferris repeated. "I don't much like the word."

"What's a better word?" she asked.

He thought for a moment. "Sojourner might do." 

Ferris self-identifies as a sojourner. A sojourner is a guest in perpetuity, someone who physically and psychologically cannot become attached to person or place. Although an expatriate has left the country of his birth, he has, nevertheless chosen a new land to call home. But John Ferris actually homeless - no wife, no child, no family, and no land of dreams come true.