The Ballad of the Sad Café

by Carson McCullers

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Student Question

Describe the narration in "The Ballad of the Sad Café".

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In "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe," Carson McCullers employs the third-person point of view rather than an omniscient narrator. This third person is a storyteller, someone familiar with the characters, their past and present. Prior to this paragraph, this narrator displays the qualities of a keen observer and commentator, attentive to the character of Miss Amelia and the changes in her temperament and conduct after the arrival of the hunchback. For instance, Miss Amelia has long sold her liquor on the steps of her store, but never before has she allowed anyone to drink inside the premises.

There were a number of customers, because it was Saturday night, and they all wanted liquor. Now Miss Amelia had dug up an aged barrel...This night she took the money from that customers and counted it ...Such was the ordinary procedure. But after this what happened was not ordinary....she never allowed liquor to be opened or drunk by anyone but herself. Now for the first time she broke this rule.

The narrator comments in this earlier passage that this Saturday Miss Amelia took the opened bottles back into the brightly-lit store and even opened a box of crackers...."so that there were hospitality in a platter...."--a quality that, evidently, Miss Amelia has lacked in the usual running of things.

The repeated use of the word "now" at the beginning of many sentences lends the narration a colloquial tone--a "folksiness," as one critic terms it, and the narration, although told from third person, is somewhat interpretive in its slow pace, as would a local storyteller be. 

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