The Member of the Wedding

by Carson McCullers

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Themes and Meanings

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The Member of the Wedding is about the isolation of people and their search for love and acceptance to correct this condition. Related minor themes concerning death, race, time, and war also are treated.

The play focuses on Frankie, caught in the awkward transition between a child and an adult. She is too old for dolls and yet too young to understand the “nasty lies about married people” that the older girls tell. She is also motherless, her father is preoccupied, her older brother has been away in the army, and her best friend has moved. She also has little in common with Berenice or John Henry. Frankie’s outward toughness fails to mask her vulnerability. Her desire to belong suddenly crystallizes when she sees Jarvis and Janice’s special relationship.

Death is another cause of isolation, especially for Mr. Addams, a longtime widower, and Mr. and Mrs. West, who lose their only son during the play. Berenice’s loneliness stems from the death of her first husband, with whom she had a loving relationship.

Racial isolation becomes another subtheme, developed through Berenice, T.T., and Honey. Frankie’s comment to Berenice about death, that “it must be terrible to be nothing but black, black, black,” and Berenice’s answer, “Yes, baby,” coming immediately after Mr. Addams’ confrontation with Honey, have ironic application also to the plight of the Southern black at this time. In this play, blacks either attempt to gain acceptance from the white community by acting submissively, as do Berenice and T.T., or defy it, as does Honey. The latter action, however, always brings disastrous results.

The rapidity with which life-changing events can occur is another focus of the play. After months in which nothing happens, suddenly Janice and Jarvis are to be married in two days. Only several months later, John Henry and Honey are dead, Frankie and her father are moving, and Berenice is not going with them. As Frankie says, “The world is certainly—a sudden place.”


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Identity and Self
Twelve-year-old Frankie is entering the phase of her adolescence in which she undergoes dramatic changes and begins seriously considering who she is as a person and who she will become. McCullers describes Frankie’s unrest in part one, writing:

Very early in the morning she would sometimes go out into the yard and stand for a long time looking at the sunrise sky. And it was as though a question came into her heart, and the sky did not answer. Things she had never noticed much before began to hurt her: home lights watched from the evening sidewalks, an unknown voice in the alley. She would stare at the lights and listen to the voice, and something inside her stiffened and waited. But the lights would darken, the voice fall silent, and though she waited, that was all. She was afraid of these things that made her suddenly wonder who she was, and what she was going to be in the world, and why she was standing at that minute, seeing a light, or listening or staring up at the sky: alone.

Frankie is exceptionally tall for her age, which makes her feel gawky and clumsy. She is a tomboy who wears boyish clothes and has shortly cropped hair, and when she looks at herself in the mirror, she sees only ugliness. Her self-esteem is low, as indicated in the following excerpt from part one:

This was the summer when Frankie was sick and tired of being Frankie. She hated herself, and had become a loafer and a big no-good who hung around the...

(This entire section contains 802 words.)

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summer kitchen: dirty and greedy and mean and sad.

No longer interested in many of the activities that once entertained her, Frankie finds herself torn between the worlds of childhood and adulthood. As the story progresses, the reader can see how her sense of identity changes each time she changes her name. In the beginning, she is Frankie, which suits her tomboy identity. When she decides to join her brother and his bride, she decides to be F. Jasmine so that her name (Jasmine) will sound more like their names, Jarvis and Janice. She attempts to identify herself with them by changing her name. By the end, however, she has decided to be called Frances, her given name. This choice indicates her coming to terms with herself as a maturing young woman who can determine her own identity within the parameters of social expectations.

The Need to Belong
McCullers’s theme of belonging is the other side of her theme of identity. While identity asks the question, “Who am I as an individual?” the need to belong asks the question, “Who am I in relation to others?” From the first paragraph, McCullers makes this theme clear:

This was the summer when for a long time she had not been a member. She belonged to no club and was a member of nothing in the world. Frankie had become an unjoined person who hung around in doorways, and she was afraid.

She is not welcome in the summer club formed by a group of neighborhood girls who are a few years older. Although she was a sort of junior member of the group in the past, the older girls are no longer interested in having Frankie around them. In addition, she lacks the sense of family that often anchors adolescents as they navigate these troubling years. The closest thing she has to a family unit is the trio formed by herself, Berenice, and John Henry.

Frankie is disappointed that she cannot be a part of the war in some way. McCullers writes, “She wanted to be a boy and go to war as a Marine.” Because of her age and gender, she cannot join the military. She plans to donate blood so that her blood will run in the veins of soldiers all over the world. By doing this, she thinks, she will feel like a part of the war. When the Red Cross refuses to take her blood because of her young age, Frankie is disappointed and angry, and she generalizes her feelings to include the rest of the world that “seemed somehow separate from herself.”

When Frankie hears that her brother plans to marry a local girl, she imagines herself as a member of the wedding and of their new family. In her mind, she aligns herself with the bride and groom at such an intimate level that she plans to accompany them on their honeymoon and then go with them wherever they live. She believes that everyone is part of a “we,” and she declares that Jarvis and Janice are “the we of me.” Her desperation to belong somewhere and her naiveté prevent her from understanding the inappropriateness and impracticality of her plan.