(Masterpieces of American Literature)

A weird love story, The Ballad of the Sad Café was dedicated to David Diamond, her husband’s lover. The story elevates elements of their triangular relationship to archetypal significance. Once a dingy old building in the middle of a town where “there is absolutely nothing to do,” the café itself becomes a symbol of the human heart. Like a magic lantern, it may be lit by love—in this case, the love of a tall, muscular woman, Miss Amelia, for an itinerant hunchbacked dwarf, Cousin Lymon. Townsfolk are flabbergasted when Miss Amelia offers him room and board, for she has cared nothing for the love of men and seldom invited them inside except to trick them out of money. After three days, they suspect that she has killed him. When a delegation arrives to investigate, however, they are surprised to find Cousin Lymon strutting around as if he owned the place. Miss Amelia has been completely transformed. Once stingy and shrewd, she now treats them with hospitality and generosity. Love has converted the town from boredom to joy, as the café hums with merriment and fellowship.

Six years later, the lantern is shattered when Miss Amelia’s jilted husband, Marvin Macy, returns from prison. Years ago, their bizarre marriage had scandalized the town. On their wedding night, the bride bolted from the bedroom within half an hour. Whenever the groom came within reach, she gave him a violent drubbing. On the tenth day, he left town, vowing revenge. Before this marriage, Macy had been a terrible character, known as a defiler of young women and a...

(The entire section is 640 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

The Ballad of the Sad Café depicts a triangular romance similar to the complicated relationship involving Carson McCullers and Reeves McCullers, David Diamond, and Annemarie Clarac-Schwarzenbach. Diamond loved Carson and Reeves; Reeves loved Carson and Diamond; and Carson loved Diamond and Annemarie and felt ambivalent toward Reeves, whom she was divorcing. In the novel Miss Amelia Evans owns a café in a Southern mill town. When Cousin Lymon, a dwarf and hunchback, appears and claims kinship with her, she invites him to live with her. She falls in love with Lymon, and the café becomes a lively place where isolated townspeople gather and form a community. When Amelia’s former husband, Marvin Macy, gets out of prison, he returns to the café to seek revenge upon Amelia for humiliating him.

In The Ballad of the Sad Café McCullers portrays bisexuality and androgyny. Although living with Amelia, Lymon longs for a male lover, and Macy seeks Lymon’s affection to spite Amelia. Lymon becomes obsessively in love with Macy, and Amelia allows Macy to stay with her for Lymon’s sake. Justifying her actions, Amelia says, “It is better to take in your mortal enemy than face the terror of living alone.” A loner with masculine qualities, Amelia denies her feminine identity. Her masculine characteristics are expressed in her attire, her attitudes, and her unconsummated marriage to Macy.

Mythic qualities combined with folktale...

(The entire section is 444 words.)