What is the meaning behind the title, Reflections in a Golden Eye?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Carson McCullers's Reflections in a Golden Eye is a novel of what critic Margaret McDowell calls "a fragmented vision of human existence." The narrative of a surreal world of two military couples and a bizarre soldier who are all on a military base is developed by the characters themselves who exhibit anxieties over isolation, adulterous behavior, bisexuality, beastiality, and psychic behavior.

Captain Weldon Penderton, a man with homosexual tendencies is married to a beautiful woman who finds her interests lie in her husband's commanding officer, Major Morris Langdon.  Langdon's wife who suffers psycholgically after the death of her deformed daughter, has self-mutilated.  While her husband is engaged in his philandering, she spends the day with her androgenous Phillipine houseboy.  On the night after Major Penderton is thrown by his wife's horse and he beats it, the soldier in charge of the stable sees him, and Major Penderton is attracted to him.  But, he must walk home where his wife prepares for a dinner and party.

On this night of the party, Alison Morris cannot sleep.  So her perversely devoted houseboy enters the room.  They paint with water colors while they talk.  Staring into the fire, the houseboy, Anacleto, describes a peacock with one golden eye in which was reflected something he called "tiny....and..." Mrs. Langdon finishes for him, "grotesque."  Here the reference is to her dead child; however, the truth is that all the characters are grotesque, their bizarre and aberrant passions reflected in the golden eyes of Anacleto's peacocks, birds who traditionally are the symbols of immortality and the incorruptible soul.

Reflections in a Golden Eye  is a title aimed at the gothic distortion of life in contrast to the regimented world of a military base.  With the eye's color as symbolic of evil, the mirroring of aberrant behaviors becomes grotesque, reflecting the distortion of sexuality and friendship as the characters are in confused, psychotic, and chaotic states. 

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Reflections in a Golden Eye

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