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The main theme of The Member of the Wedding is the discomforts of adolescence, especially the uncomfortable state of "becoming." Frankie Addams doesn’t yet know what she will become. When she hears of her brother’s upcoming wedding, she latches onto the idea of becoming part of the wedding, a member of a unified group. She also has many other thoughts of becoming something else and she plays out these fantasies in dress up costumes, in daydreams, and in talk.
The minor theme of the novel is the idea of belonging. At twelve years old, Frankie doesn’t belong to childhood anymore and she doesn’t yet belong to adulthood. She spends her time with two other non-members--Berenice Sadie Brown and John Henry West. When she reaches a place of belonging, these two figures leave her life.
The mood of the novel is a heavy mood of boredom and frustration as Frankie lives through the dreaded dog days of summer. The scene is fairly constant--the Addams’ kitchen--creating a sense of claustrophobia broken infrequently by disturbing trips into the outside world where Frankie is forced to see her invisible status as an adolescent.
AUTHOR INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Carson McCullers was born in 1917. The novel The Member of the Wedding is largely autobiographical. Carson McCullers was raised in a small Southern town much like the one depicted in the novel. She was raised by the family’s African-American housekeeper more than by her father. This housekeeper is depicted with great subtlety in this novel--the character of Berenice Sadie Brown. Her other novels include The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and other Stories, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Clock Hands, and Reflections in a Golden Eye.
Two of her novels were produced as plays. Edward Albee dramatized The Ballad of a Sad Cafe and it appeared on Broadway. The Member of the Wedding was also produced as a play on Broadway and later made into a motion picture.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter was her first novel, written when she was only twenty-three years old. It established her as one of the leading writers of the South. McCullers moved to New York, where she continued writing until her death in 1967.
The primary literary influences of Carson McCullers’ novel are southern writers such as Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner. Her evocation of the Southern scene is as vivid as these predecessors ever created. The sense of the stifling quality of small town life is balanced in McCullers with an underlying appreciation of its cohesiveness, its sense of rootedness, and its unexpected moments of beauty and love. However, McCullers also recognizes the treacheries of mid-century Southern life, especially in its oppression of African Americans. The character of Berenice Sadie Brown is the center of authority in the novel. She teaches Frankie how to be a good person, how to make authentic choices in life, and how to live with the mistakes of bad choices. She also teaches Frankie that African Americans live in an entirely different society than European Americans. Frankie incorporates some of this sense in her identification with Berenice and her people. When Frankie witnesses the police raiding the homes of African Americans, she imagines that she would receive the same treatment, not recognizing that as a European-American child, she is privileged with the protection of the law. In this subtle account of racism in southern America, McCullers goes beyond her predecessors to create an ethical portrait of the South.
It is in her creation of the claustrophobic atmosphere of adolescence that Carson McCullers best distinguishes herself in her novel The Member of the Wedding. The scenes in the kitchen are some of the most memorable in literature for their almost surreal evocation of the scene of adolescence. The kitchen walls, covered with the drawings of John Henry, drawings which reach only as high as his little boy’s arm’s reach. The heat of the southern summer which makes it seem like the walls are sweating. The sweaty cards which the three play all summer long until the cards accumulate on them all the smells and smudges of a season of southern cooking. Outside the house, the world is more open, but it is no more attractive than the claustrophobia of the kitchen because in its openness, Frankie becomes invisible and unheard. With the heavy weight of emotion that each scene carries, it’s no wonder that when the dog days of summer end and Frankie breaks into the age of thirteen and finds a new girlfriend, she and her father are planning a move to the suburbs.
McCullers overlays the heavy atmosphere of Frankie’s adolescence with the voice of the child who is essentially an orphan. Her mother is dead and her father is emotionally and usually physically absent from her life. Her makeshift family consists of Berenice Sadie Brown and John Henry West. She feels about this family like most people feel about their families. She is belongs to them but also feels stuck with them. She draws sustenance from their daily contact and she takes them for granted, not recognizing what they give her. She goes to them when she is at her most despairing and she finds comfort in their circle of familiarity.Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version