Coleman Rosenberger (essay date 1951)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Ballad of the Sad Café: The Novels and Stories of Carson McCullers, in The New York Herald Tribune, June 10, 1951, pp. 1, 13.

[In the following favorable review, Rosenberger discusses McCullers's short fiction and calls The Ballad of the Sad Café her most intense achievement.]

Here in one omnibus volume, which includes her three novels, a half dozen short stories, and an unfamiliar longer one which gives the volume [The Ballad of the Sad Café: The Novels and Stories of Carson McCullers] its name, is the whole fabulous world of Carson McCullers: the dwarfed and the deformed, the hurt and the lonely, the defeated and...

(The entire section is 1265 words.)

Robert S. Phillips (essay date 1964)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Dinesen's 'Monkey' and McCullers' 'Ballad': A Study in Literary Affinity," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 1, No. 3, Spring, 1964, pp. 184-90.

[In the following essay, Phillips compares Isak Dinesen's short story "The Monkey" (1934) with The Ballad of the Sad Café and argues that Dinesen's tale was a likely source of inspiration for McCullers.]

Originality is the quality most remarkable in the writings of Carson McCullers. Her novels and stories, with their poetic simplicity and Gothic elements, their freakish characters and malevolent plots, hold a unique place in contemporary American literature. Because her work has been unique, the fiction of...

(The entire section is 2599 words.)

Albert J. Griffith (essay date 1967)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Carson McCullers' Myth of the Sad Café," in The Georgia Review, Vol. XXI, No. 1, Spring, 1967, pp. 46-56.

[In the following essay, Griffith examines the ways in which McCullers imbues The Ballad of the Sad Café with mythic elements.]

Carson McCullers' The Ballad of the Sad Café is as grotesque in characterization and incident as anything in American literature. The simple summarizing of the situation reveals its perverseness: a dark, masculine, cross-eyed giant of a woman develops strange, possessive love for a dirty, mischievous, hunchbacked dwarf of a man, who in turn worships a handsome, guitar-strumming robber and seducer, who in...

(The entire section is 4496 words.)

Lawrence Graver (essay date 1969)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Carson McCullers, University of Minnesota Press, 1969, pp. 24-33.

[In the following excerpt, Graver argues that The Ballad of the Sad Café is McCullers's best work of "grotesque" fiction. He concludes, however, that this novella is not quite as fully realized as The Member of the Wedding.]

The Ballad of the Sad Café is a good deal more rewarding [than Reflections in a Golden Eye]. Instead of trying to compete with writers of much greater psychological awareness and architechtonic skill, Mrs. McCullers here wisely moves in a limited area more suited to her talents—the alien, elemental world of legend and romance. Like all good...

(The entire section is 2924 words.)

Dawson F. Gaillard (essay date 1972)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Presence of the Narrator in Carson McCullers' The Ballad of the Sad Café," in The Mississippi Quarterly, Vol. XXV, Fall, 1972, pp. 419-27.

[In the following essay, Gaillard argues that it is through the consciousness of the narrator in The Ballad of the Sad Café that the reader experiences the mythic qualities of the depicted characters and events.]

The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

—William Faulkner, Nobel Prize
Acceptance Speech.

A voice speaks to us in the...

(The entire section is 3135 words.)

Joseph R. Millichap (essay date 1973)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Carson McCullers' Literary Ballad," in The Georgia Review, Vol. XXVII, No. 3, Fall, 1973, pp. 329-39.

[In the following essay, Millichap argues that the musical ballad form provides the key to understanding The Ballad of the Sad Café.]

Carson McCullers' novels, particularly The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940) and Member of the Wedding (1946), often have been misread as Gothic and grotesque fictions, categories derived by critics from her works in these modes, Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941) and Ballad of the Sad Café (1943). Strangely enough, the same critics, intent on demonstrating their Procrustean theories in all of...

(The entire section is 4043 words.)

John McNally (essay date 1973)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Introspective Narrator in The Ballad of the Sad Café," in South Atlantic Bulletin, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 4, November, 1973, pp. 40-4.

[In the following essay, McNally examines the point-of-view of the narration in The Ballad of the Sad Café, arguing that when the reader views the narrator as "a character in the story, he notices a subtle but significant shift in the story's form and subsequent themes."]

Carson McCullers' novella, The Ballad of the Sad Café, is intriguing for a number of reasons. First there is the incredibly grotesque gallery of characters who people the little dreary town in which the story takes place. Then, of...

(The entire section is 2006 words.)

Panthea Reid Broughton (essay date 1974)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Rejection of the Feminine in Carson McCullers' The Ballad of the Sad Café" in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 20, No. 1, January, 1974, pp. 34-43.

[In the following essay, Broughton asserts that the characters in The Ballad of the Sad Café regard tenderness and the expression of emotion as inherently feminine and, for that reason, "weak" qualities. She argues that their attitudes toward the feminine cause them to reject qualities that are essential to the survival of the human community.]

Well over a century has passed since Alexis de Tocqueville astutely observed that compulsive individualism, so idealized in America, might indeed foster...

(The entire section is 3966 words.)

Richard M. Cook (essay date 1975)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Ballad of the Sad Café," in Carson McCullers, Frederick Unger, 1975, pp. 84-104.

[In the following excerpt, Cook suggests that The Ballad of the Sad Café celebrates the capacity of love to transform a community and is an elegy to the ephemerality of such love.]

After working on drafts of The Member of the Wedding for two years, in the fall of 1943 Carson McCullers interrupted her work, took a trip to Saratoga Springs and in six weeks' time wrote what is now her best-known work, The Ballad of the Sad Café. Like McCullers's other novels, The Ballad of the Sad Café is the story of lonely people falling in love; but it is...

(The entire section is 6860 words.)

Richard Gray (essay date 1977)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Moods and Absences," in Carson McCullers, Chelsea House Publishers 1986, pp. 77-85.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1977, Gray argues that the sense of isolation that permeates McCullers's fictionwhich he claims has often been commented upon but never satisfactorily accounted foris attributable to her having produced most of her fiction in a transitory period between the "renaissance" in Southern fiction and its "new wave, " as well as to specifics of her childhood. He further states that The Ballad of the Sad Café exemplifies the ways in which McCullers created a new kind of fiction, one cut off from recognizable tradition, out of what...

(The entire section is 4213 words.)

Margaret B. McDowell (essay date 1980)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Ballad of the Sad Café, " in Carson McCullers, Twayne Publishers, 1980, pp. 65-79.

[In the following excerpt, McDowell provides an overview of The Ballad of the Sad Café, addressing topics such as the novella's combination of comic and tragic elements, the relation between the story and McCullers's personal life, and its mythical, Gothic, and ballad-like features.]

In The Ballad of the Sad Café McCullers achieved an intricate blending of the real and the mythic, of the comic and the desolate, and of the provincial and the universal. She attained in this short novel an extraordinary compression, control, objectivity, and sense of...

(The entire section is 5880 words.)

Barbara C. Gannon (essay date 1982)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "McCullers' Ballad of the Sad Café," in The Explicator, Vol. 41, No. 1, Fall, 1982, pp. 59-60.

[In the following essay, Gannon argues that the final paragraph in The Ballad of the Sad Café—in which the chain gang from the beginning of the novella reappears"recounts, in the manner of an envoy, the whole ballad. "]

Carson McCullers' Ballad of the Sad Café is bracketed with the observation that the town is dreary. The narrator suggests in the introduction and again in the closing lines that one listen to the chain gang, presumably for diversion. But in the introduction the gang's appearance is a promise; in the final paragraph...

(The entire section is 638 words.)

Louise Westling (essay date 1982)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Carson McCullers' Amazon Nightmare," in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 28, No. 3, Autumn, 1982, pp. 465-73.

[In the following essay, Westling argues that while many feminist critics have demonstrated an interest in androgynous characters, the nature of McCullers's Miss Amelia has not been adequately examined. She argues that this character's "freakishness" represents an ambivalence McCullers's part toward female identity.]

Miss Amelia Evans is a monstrous creature, really, and yet Carson McCullers lavished admiring care in picturing her many talents, her forbidding strength, and her control of the squalid village world of The Ballad of the Sad Café...

(The entire section is 3613 words.)

Mary Ann Dazey (essay date 1985)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Two Voices of the Single Narrator in The Ballad of the Sad Café" in The Southern Literary Journal Vol. XVII, No. 2, Spring, 1985, pp. 33-40.

[In the following essay, Dazey argues that the narrator of The Ballad of the Sad Café has two distinct voices: one that interprets the story and laments the town and the actions of the characters, and one that tells the story in a relatively objective manner.]

When The Ballad of the Sad Café was first published in Harper's Bazaar in 1943, Carson McCullers was twenty-six, and at that time most critics pointed to the work as evidence of the great promise of the young writer. Today, however, it...

(The entire section is 3021 words.)

Todd Stabbins (essay date 1988)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "McCullers' The Ballad of the Sad Café," in The Explicator, Vol. 46, No. 2, Winter, 1988, pp. 36-8.

[In the following essay, Stebbins briefly discusses the final section of The Ballad of the Sad Café, arguing that this "coda" demonstrates the harmony that is possible, however temporarily, between human beings.]

In The Ballad of the Sad Café, Carson McCullers shows us a carefully crafted world where people struggle to escape the isolation that oppresses each of them. The Ballad's famous love passage predicts that each person will use love for another as his or her means of escape. McCullers' skillful use of settings—the town, the...

(The entire section is 877 words.)

Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar (essay date 1988)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Fighting for Life: The Women's Cause," in No Man's Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, Volume 1: The War of the Words, Yale University Press, 1988, pp. 104-12.

[In the following excerpt, Gilbert and Gubar argue that The Ballad of the Sad Café dramatizes the retribution exacted on a woman who attempts to rebel against patriarchal social conventions.]

McCullers shows in her dreamlike mythic narrative of The Ballad of the Sad Cafe the culturally determined psychic logic that condemns the autonomous woman as a freak who must necessarily be sentenced to the defeat that is femininity. In fact, like her friend and contemporary...

(The entire section is 3110 words.)

Virginia Spencer Carr (essay date 1990)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Ballad of the Sad Café, " in Understanding Carson McCullers, University of South Carolina Press, 1990, pp. 53-71.

[In the following essay, Carr introduces The Ballad of the Sad Café, discussing, among other things, thematic parallels between the novella and McCullers's other fiction, connections between McCullers's life and work, and the critical response to the novella.]

The monotony and boredom that permeated [McCullers's] life with her husband in 1939 before their move from Fayetteville, North Carolina, contributed not only to the completion of Reflections in a Golden Eye, but also to her novella, The Ballad of the Sad...

(The entire section is 4476 words.)