The Ballad of the Sad Café Additional Summary

Carson McCullers


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The action of the story covers the period from the time Cousin Lymon arrives in town until his departure with Marvin Macy almost seven years later. The narrative, however, includes incidents and explanations of circumstances from Amelia’s early childhood until several years after Lymon and Marvin have gone. The story begins with a description of the dreary, isolated town, the hostile climate, and the central building there—a shabby, boarded-up former café. From the upstairs window the dim, grief-stricken face of Miss Amelia can occasionally be seen gazing out. The story of the café and the story of Miss Amelia are one. She was born there in the upstairs living quarters, was reared as a solitary child by her widowed father, and was heiress to both the property and the business when her father died. She is a woman of many talents: a sharp business negotiator, a renowned liquor distiller, a compassionate and knowledgeable doctor, and a strong and independent person.

Amelia’s independence and solitary habits of existence are well known, and when Lymon, the little sickly hunchback, arrives and claims to be her cousin, the townspeople are astonished and baffled that she takes him in. He quickly becomes the center of her life and encourages her to convert the store into a combination store-café, where not only the traditional supplies and moonshine are dispensed but also meals are served and a general festive gathering of the townsfolk takes place on Saturday nights. Lymon is the center of the café activities. He enjoys the company of the townsfolk, and Amelia becomes more sociable and friendly, even to the extent of wearing dresses instead of the rough, masculine work clothes she had always worn before.

Her love for Cousin Lymon is obvious, though incredible, to the townspeople, especially as they recall her one previous experience with love, when she was courted and wed by Marvin Macy. Marvin was a wild young man who had been abandoned by his parents when he was a small child. He was handsome, reckless, and a notorious seducer of romantic, trusting young women. When Marvin Macy met Amelia, however, his life changed. He fell in love with her, reformed his character and behavior, and patiently waited two years before declaring his love and asking her to marry him. Amelia did marry him but with the belief that the marriage was a business...

(The entire section is 970 words.)