Twelve-year-old Frankie Addams, the protagonist of this novel, is one of the most provocative adolescent characters in American literature. Rebellious but inwardly frightened, she is a social outcast who secretly longs to be connected with a group. The novel tells the story of her scheme to run away to live with her older brother and his new bride, thus becoming a “member of the wedding.”
Carson McCullers’ third novel is short on conventional plot, concentrating instead on characterization and mood. Most of the book’s events take place in the kitchen of Frankie’s home, where she spends much of her time talking with the cook, Berenice Sadie Brown, and with six-year-old John Henry West. The three characters eat, play cards, and argue during the course of the long, hot Southern summer which is the novel’s primary time frame.
Almost as important to the story as Frankie herself is Berenice, the only estimable adult character. Her love-hate relationship with Frankie and their arguments provide the basis for many of the novel’s themes, among them the impossibility of mutual and lasting love and the essential loneliness of the human condition. Berenice is also representative of the oppression of blacks in a segregated South, a concern that runs through much of McCullers’ work.
The novel is clearly divided into three sections, each dealing with a separate stage of Frankie Addams’ emotional development. McCullers later adapted her best-known work for the stage, and it was a Broadway hit in 1950. Both the play and the novel deal delicately but honestly with the sad but necessary journey from childhood to maturity.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Carson McCullers. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. Barbara A. White’s “Loss of Self in The Member of the Wedding” interprets Frankie as a confused tomboy neither wanting to remain a child nor to become a woman. Excellent source for discussion of novella.
Box, Patricia S. “Androgyny and the Musical Vision: A Study of Two Novels by Carson McCullers.” Southern Quarterly 16 (1978): 117-123. This article provides insight into Frankie and her concern with gender issues.
Carr, Virginia S. The Lonely Hunter: A Biography of Carson McCullers. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1975. Written from a feminist perspective, this biography provides photographs as well as many useful insights into McCullers as a person and the writing of the novel.
Chamlee, Kenneth D. “Cafés and Community in Three McCullers Novels.” Studies in American Fiction 18 (Autumn, 1990): 233-240. The bar at the Blue Moon, like the café in The Ballad of the Sad Café, is a place where personal encounters bring about personal insights that lead to growth.
Cook, Richard M. Carson McCullers. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1975. A biography containing a twenty-two-page chapter on The Member of the Wedding, along with a helpful chronology and index. Defends the novelist’s concern with human isolation.
Evans, Oliver. The Ballad of Carson McCullers: A Biography. New York: Coward, McCann, 1966. Encompasses incisive comments on McCullers’ work and a detailed chapter on The Member of the Wedding, citing its autobiographical nature and analyzing disparate critical reviews. Valuable for detailing connections between McCullers’ life and fiction.
Graver, Lawrence. Carson McCullers. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969. Helpfully condensed discussion of the author’s life and work. Views The Member of the Wedding as a journey of adolescent initiation, combining early dissatisfaction with jubilant hope and disillusionment with wisdom about life’s limits.
McCullers, Carson. The Mortgaged Heart. Edited by Margarita G. Smith. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971. This collection of short stories and personal essays by McCullers is an important primary source for information on her life as well as her motives and practices in writing.
McDowell, Margaret. Carson McCullers. Boston: Twayne, 1980. Insightful discussion of The Member of the Wedding that stresses the novelist’s thematic concerns with time as it relates to life’s stages, and isolation and the fear of independence applied to the novella’s three major characters.