The Member of the Wedding

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 649 words.)