The Ballad of the Sad Café

by Carson McCullers

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Student Question

How does McCullers use grotesque elements to create the central theme in Ballad of the Sad Cafe?

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In Carson McCuller’s The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, there are several grotesque elements. One of the key elements is characterization. Miss Amelia is a grotesque character—she is over six feet tall and is man-like. Cousin Lymon is also an unconventional character—he is a hunchback and a misfit. However, he and Miss Amelia make the cafe work for a time, until he leaves her.

The setting in this novel is also considered grotesque. It is an isolated, impoverished area, where people who live there are suspicious of outsiders. At the end of the story, Miss Amelia is left alone, in a destroyed cafe in this small town, which causes her to ultimately withdraw. Both the setting and the depiction of the characters contribute to the theme of isolation that is present in this novella.

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