Which characters are we meant to see as a cautionary tale?
One character that is a cautionary tale would be Mattie. She is in need of what Bynum would call her "song." Simply put, she lacks it. Mattie is incapable of recognizing the need to find her own identity or her own "song." Rather, she believes that she can escape its challenges through submission of her own identity into another. She is lost in love, seeking to find someone that will enable her to lose the pain of having to establish her own identity. She wants to get married and have children, reflecting Mattie's desire to surrender identity into the hands of an external reality. Her constant preoccupation with the need to find a man represents a cautionary tale, embodying the consequences of individuals who fail to embark on the quest of self- definition and accept the challenges that come with it.
Mattie is a cautionary tale because she will never be happy. She comes to Bynum in the hopes of finding Jack who left her, settles for Jeremy who ends up leaving her, and then runs off after Herald, who really displays little interest in her upon finding his "song." In the end, Mattie is a cautionary tale because she embodies the fruitlessness in resting identity in the modern setting outside of one's sense of self. Wilson constructs her to be the cautionary tale to the reader that the struggle to find one's song is precisely that: Struggle. Mattie's inability to accept this will lead to more pain and heartache for her in the future.