Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

One of the most remarkable aspects of “Wunderkind” is its narrative voice and vantage point. While it is that of the third person, with its omniscience limited to Frances’s thoughts and perceptions, McCullers communicates the mental and emotional states of her young protagonist by rendering the narrative voice almost neutral where judgments of the other characters in the story are concerned. Because Frances’s personality is portrayed at a critical moment of her development—a moment during which she is uncertain about who she is or will be, as she feels a past identity crumbling away from her—the fact that her identity is not fixed precludes her judging others for what they are or are not. In such a transitional state, in fact, Frances is critical of no one but herself.

An excellent example of the above-mentioned neutral narrative perception or portrayal of a character is that of Mrs. Bilderbach. As Frances thinks about her, the reader is told that the woman “was much different from her husband. She was quiet and fat and slow. When she wasn’t in the kitchen, cooking the rich dishes that both of them loved, she seemed to spend all her time in their bed upstairs, reading magazines or just looking with a half-smile at nothing.” Significantly, the observations with which the reader is presented about Mrs. Bilderbach are nonjudgmental; consequently, the reader is left to decide if any aspects of the woman or her habits are to be seen pejoratively.

Similarly, the portraits of Mr. Bilderbach, Mr. Lafkowitz, and even Heime are all seemingly composed of objective observations, or observations stated objectively. McCullers utilizes this narrative approach for at least three reasons: first, because it gives the reader a sense of Frances’s overly self-critical frame of mind, as well as her tendency to observe others (especially adults) in a nonevaluative manner; second, because it portrays a complex psychological struggle, for which there is no easy solution, in a largely impartial manner; and third, because it demands from the reader compassion for both Frances and Mr. Bilderbach as they suffer the effects of her painful growth.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

The Idea of the Teenager
The category of ‘‘teenager’’ is a familiar, wellestablished part of our culture; we may not...

(The entire section is 1197 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Point of View
Technically, ‘‘Wunderkind’’ depends greatly on the skillful and effective way McCullers establishes...

(The entire section is 875 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1920s: As a child, McCullers practices playing the piano for five hours a day. After a severe illness and an emotional parting with...

(The entire section is 223 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Frances’s talent has led her to take on pressures and demands that make her experience of childhood and early adolescence quite different...

(The entire section is 438 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

She’s Come Undone (1992), a novel by Wally Lamb, is a darkly humorous account of a woman forced to deal with the lifelong effects of...

(The entire section is 151 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Cahill, Susan, ed. Women and Fiction: Short Stories by and about Women, New York: New American Library, 1975, pp....

(The entire section is 117 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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Carr, Virginia Spencer. Understanding Carson McCullers. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990.

Clark, Beverly Lyon, and Melvin J. Friedman, eds. Critical Essays on Carson McCullers. New York: G. K. Hall, 1996.

Cook, Richard M. Carson McCullers. 1975. Reprint. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1984.

Evans, Oliver. The Ballad of Carson McCullers: A Biography. New York: Coward, McCann, 1966.

Evans, Oliver. “The Theme of Spiritual Isolation in Carson McCullers.” In South: Modern Southern Literature in Its Cultural Setting, edited by Louis D. Rubin, Jr., and Robert D. Jacobs. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1961.

Gleeson-White, Sarah. Strange Bodies: Gender and Identity in the Novels of Carson McCullers. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2003.

Graver, Lawrence. Carson McCullers. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969.

James, Judith Giblin. Wunderkind: The Reputation of Carson McCullers, 1940-1990. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1995.

Jenkins, McKay. The South in Black and White: Race, Sex, and Literature in the 1940’s. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

McDowell, Margaret B. Carson McCullers. Boston: Twayne, 1980.

Savigneau, Josyane. Carson McCullers: A Life. Translated by Joan E. Howard. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.

Shapiro, Adrian M., Jackson R. Bryer, and Kathleen Field. Carson McCullers: A Descriptive Listing and Annotated Bibliography of Criticism. New York: Garland, 1980.

Tippins, Sherill. February House. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005.

Walker, Sue. It’s Good Weather for Fudge: Conversing with Carson McCullers. Montgomery, Ala.: NewSouth Books, 2003.

Westling, Louise. Sacred Groves and Ravaged Gardens: The Fiction of Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, and Flannery O’Connor. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985.