The Member of the Wedding

by Carson McCullers

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The actual circumstances described in The Member of the Wedding take place on the last Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of August, 1944, but the narrative shifts in time to include the past along with the present and a brief glimpse of the future. Even though the narrator appears to be omniscient, the perspective from which the story is told is always Frankie’s, F. Jasmine’s, or Frances’. The tone and language appropriately reveal the active and vivid mind of a young adolescent who has written and produced plays and intends to become a famous poet. She is very intelligent but knows less about the adult world than she thinks she does. During the course of the narrative, her entire emotional world is upset and transformed by her reaction to the wedding. The disappointments she suffers help her to reevaluate her perspective of the world, to grow in knowledge and understanding of life and death, and to become better prepared for losing John Henry, entering the seventh grade, moving to a new house, and leaving Berenice behind. Even though Frances is far from being an adult, she is at least no longer a child, and she has learned something of the importance of being connected through love and feeling a sense of solidarity.

As the story progresses, F. Jasmine undergoes several major losses that prepare for and demonstrate her loss of childhood innocence. One of these is the death of Uncle Charles, which prompts F. Jasmine to review the other seven dead people she has known. She has not felt close to any of them, but Berenice’s vivid accounting of the death of Ludie Freeman, her beloved and cherished husband, actually brings the idea of death into the kitchen, the realm of childish things. The fact that Ludie died on November 1, 1931, the very day that she was born, compels F. Jasmine to feel a closeness and connectedness with him. These experiences help to prepare her for the death of John Henry.

She needs even more preparation for the separation from Berenice’s lap and the womblike security of her kitchen; she cannot deal directly with the thought that Berenice would leave her, so she makes elaborate plans for her own departure. She rejects Berenice in words by deliberately saying things that will hurt her and even throws a kitchen knife at her in a symbolic attempt to sever the tie between them. Ironically, she accuses Berenice of not being able to understand, although the ability to know, to love, and to understand is Berenice’s greatest skill. Finding it much easier to ignore Berenice’s pain than to acknowledge it, Frances attempts to alienate the person whom she loves more than any other. In an imitation of adult behavior, she copes with the pain of leaving her childhood home by focusing on her future plans with Mary Littlejohn instead of attempting to tell Berenice goodbye.

In direct contrast to the intimacy of the kitchen, which represents the innocent security of childhood, is the harsh adult world of the Blue Moon. Frankie had frequently stood outside the door looking in, but F. Jasmine dares to enter this realm of adult mysteries and significantly finds that she has a language barrier that is symbolized by her telling the story of the wedding to the Portuguese owner, who literally speaks another language. Her being a “foreigner” is also vividly demonstrated by her confusion and inability to understand the language of adult sexuality, which is spoken to her by the red-haired soldier. In spite of her false sophistication, her knowledge of adult sexuality is extremely limited. The...

(This entire section contains 931 words.)

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insinuations of the soldier simply puzzle her. The sensation of the soldier’s tongue in her mouth shocks her into an awareness that is quite alien to the world of the “nice little white beau” that Berenice has prescribed for her and all of Berenice’s other familiar and reassuring “candy opinions.” Berenice recognizes even though F. Jasmine does not, the sexual connotations of her confusion as well as her fascination with the aura of happiness that surrounds Janice and Jarvis and that she wants to share.

Before the wedding entered her life, Frankie had been like the organ-grinder’s monkey—forced to dance to music that she did not make. By becoming a member of the wedding, F. Jasmine tries to turn off the rhythms and music of her childhood, which in the kitchen are represented by the constant presence of the radio, which has not been turned off all summer. The radio has provided for Frankie the only link between the world of the kitchen and the war and other elements of reality. Significantly, Jarvis turns off the radio as he enters the house; his coming forces Frankie to readjust and redefine her entire imaginative conception of the world and of the adult relationships within the world. She attempts to make her own music; throughout Saturday, memories of the past and plans for the future are mingled with the snatches of forgotten music that spring to her mind as her telling of the wedding takes on a shape like that of a song. She is at least closer to being able to create art on her own. By the time the Addams house has been sold, the kitchen walls have been repainted; all the pictures that John Henry and Frankie have painted there have been obscured from view. Frances is forming a new set of imaginative pictures of the world, which is symbolized by her studying the paintings of Michaelangelo and planning to become a poet.


Critical Context