The Ballad of the Sad Café

by Carson McCullers

Start Free Trial

Student Question

Examine the use of technique in the given excerpt from The Ballad of the Sad Café.

Image (1 of 1)

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In describing the impact that Amelia's husband, Marvin, has on her life and the "sad cafe," McCullers uses the flashback technique.  McCullers describes the impact that the husband had on Amelia's life:  ".... a terrible character after a long time in the penitentiary, caused ruin, and then went on his way again."  The flashback technique is seen in how Marvin is described as a "terrible character."  It is evident that he embodies destruction on multiple levels, something seen in how Marvin "caused ruin."  The flashback technique brings about a sense of loss and condemnation intrinsic to Marvin, helping to further the isolating and sad condition of both the cafe and the woman who runs it.  The use of flashback triggers images in the mind of the reader that cannot be exactly pinned down, but reflects a condition in the world in which all is not well.  In using the flashback, McCullers wants to evoke a particular emotional sensibility in the reader that will enable them to fully grasp what Amelia endures.

The grotesque is significant to McCullers's sense of characterization.  The characters in this sad triangle of love are all grotesque in some way.  Some level of repulsion is evident in all of the characters.  In the excerpt, this is most notably seen in Lymon.  The invoking of the "hunchback" term is one aspect of the grotesque, reflecting a condition that can be seen as hideous or distorted.  The "ragged, dusty coat" that stops at his knees is another example of this condition, as it is contrasts with the hunchback and small nature.  The physical description of his body are all representative of misshapen reality.  Details such as "his crooked little legs," "warped chest," and "a very large head" all help to feed a grotesque vision of an individual, disfigured in reality and helping to enhance an equally challenging view of being in the world.  The final detail of how Lymon carried a suitcase, itself "lopsided," by a rope helps to enhance a vision in which ugliness, or at the very least something gnarled and not set properly, is illuminated through McCullers's description.  Through such a technique, McCullers emphasizes the idea that we all are distorted and scarred in some way or another.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial