(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Written in a matter of weeks, Reflections in a Golden Eye demonstrates the range of McCullers’s talent. Here she goes beyond the realism that made her first novel so endearing and delves into a surreal world of dark, psychic impulses. Passions seethe beneath the rigid but fragile surface of military life on an Army post in peacetime. Six characters figure in the story.

Captain Weldon Penderton, an impotent, middle-aged man with homosexual inclinations, is married to the beautiful Leonora, daughter of the fort’s former commander. Leonora is having an affair with a neighbor, Major Morris Langdon. Langdon’s wife, Alison, cut off her own nipples with garden shears while mourning the death of a deformed baby. Morris and Leonora pass the time riding horseback and making love in a blackberry patch, while Alison, a virtual shut-in, spends her days listening to classical music with her Filipino houseboy, Anacleto.

Private Williams, a mysterious young man with an affinity for animals, becomes Leonora’s favorite stable boy. He cares for her high-spirited stallion, Firebird. One afternoon, while Williams is sunbathing nude on a rock in the woods, Weldon, a poor horseman, takes Firebird out for a ride. As Williams looks on, the stallion breaks into a gallop that Weldon cannot control. Losing his balance, he slides out of the saddle and is dragged some distance. When Firebird finally stops, Weldon whips him viciously with the branch of a...

(The entire section is 563 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Reflections in a Golden Eye opens with a brief narrative establishing that because of “insularity” and excess “leisure and safety” army posts during peacetime are dull. After establishing the setting, the narrator lists “two officers, a soldier, two women, a Filipino, and a horse” as participants of a murder that occurred in a particular Southern fort.

The events that occur in the novel lead to the murder mentioned in the beginning passages. The plot is developed primarily through character development rather than through action. The characters in the novel are geographically connected by virtue of their position at the army post. They are also united and estranged psychologically, emotionally, and sexually.

The characters are involved in myriad sexual identities, including adultery, bisexuality, and bestiality. Private Ellgee Williams is afraid of women because as a child he was told they carry ailing diseases and will send him to hell. Sexually attracted to animals, he works in the stables. Williams stares at Leonora through her window and enters her room at night to watch her sleep.

Captain Weldon Penderton is married to Leonora, and although they share hostile feelings each for the other, Leonora provides a shield for his latent homosexual desires. The sexually impotent Penderton is attracted to women and men, but he is most attracted to the men who find his wife attractive. Penderton is also a masochist....

(The entire section is 450 words.)