Reflections in a Golden Eye

by Carson McCullers

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 382

Reflections in a Golden Eye explores a murder committed on an Army base. Carson McCullers presents an array of characters who have difficulties with social and sexual relationships. While the military environment constrains some of their inclinations, its repressive influences cannot prevent those buried feelings from violently erupting. For the military wives, the isolation and boredom combine with their lack of specific assignments into a lethal situation. As the reader learns about the various relationships, including among two married couples, the reasons that Captain Penderton shoots Private Williams are gradually revealed.

Captain Weldon Penderton and his Leonora have a highly conflictual marriage. Leonora is frustrated by her husband’s impotence and suspects it may indicate that he is gay. Weldon is bisexual but dares not act on his desires; as an officer, he must remain in the closet. This certainty combines poorly with his masochistic impulses. Penderton fights with his inner feelings, refusing to acknowledge the sexual stimulation he derives from knowing that other men are attracted to his wife. Among those men is Private Ellgee Williams, a voyeur who cannot consummate his desires for women; instead, he is more aroused by animals, such as the horses he cares for in the stables. Nevertheless, as he enjoys watching Leonora, he becomes bolder and progresses from watching her through the window to sneaking into her room while she sleeps.

Leonora is having an affair with a higher-ranking officer, Major Morris Langdon. Morris is also married and having difficulties with his wife Alison, who is mentally unstable. She is extremely jealous of her husband but also sexually attracted to their Filipino houseboy.

Alison’s jealousy indirectly leads to Penderton’s act. Convinced she has seen her husband at the Pendertons’ home, where she assumes he has gone to have sex with Leonora, she enters the house. Instead, when she finds Private Williams in Leonora’s room, she informs the captain that she is with a man. Penderton refuses to do so, assuming that his superior officer is with his wife. Instead, he accompanies Alison back to her house and finds Langdon at home. Because he does not immediately act upon this knowledge, Williams continues to intrude into his wife’s room. Several weeks later, the captain does confront him there and shoots him dead.

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