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.