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THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING CHAPTER SUMMARIES
The town is dark and quiet. She realizes Jarvis and Janice have been in Winter Hill for quite a while now. She thinks of herself being all alone in contrast to them being together a hundred miles away. She thinks to herself "They are the we of me." In the twelve years of her life before yesterday, she had been "an I person," a mere individual. All the other people she knew had a "we to claim." She doesn’t want to claim the "we" of herself, John Henry and Berenice because she thinks that group is the "last we in the world she wanted."
John Henry interrupts her thoughts when he asks her why she’s so bent over. She tells him she has a kind of pain. She asks him to come spend the night with her, but he says he can’t, because he doesn’t want to. She yells at him, calling him a fool and telling him she only asked him because he looked so "ugly and so lonesome." He tells her he’s not a bit lonesome. She tells herself to turn around and go home, but she can’t make herself go. She tells him she thinks something is wrong, that maybe a storm is coming.
While Frankie stands there, a horn begins to play somewhere a blues tune. "It was like the telling of that long season of trouble." The horn stops mid-song and Frankie is stunned. It never resumes, making Frankie feel desperate like she needs to do something wild. She hits her head with her fist, but that doesn’t help relieve her tension. She tells John Henry her plans for leaving town. She says Berenice is a big fool for not believing her. John Henry finally asks her if she wants him to come home with her, eat supper, and then sleep outside in the teepee. She says she doesn’t.
She has a sudden revelation that she knows where she’s going. She will go to Winter Hill. She says she will go with the couple after the wedding wherever they go. She says she loves the two of them so much she will go anywhere with them. It feels like her heart has divided like two wings and the night is the most beautiful she’s ever seen. Now, when the old question came to her who she was and where she was going, she doesn’t feel hurt by it. She is a member of the wedding.
The first book of The Member of the Wedding sets the mood of the book. Frankie Addams is living the dog days of the summer of her life. She is stuck in the discomfort that exists between childhood and adulthood. She doesn’t fit anywhere and when she realizes this, she begins to long for something unnamable. When her brother comes home with his fiancee to announce their wedding the next Sunday, Frankie finds an answer to her dilemma. A wedding is the most startling symbol of belonging, of two people joining their lives together to make one life, to belong to each other for life. Frankie falls in love with the wedding and wants to be a member of it as if it were a club in which she can fit. In this childlike impulse, clearly futile to everyone but Frankie, McCullers locates all of Frankie’s tortured imagination and longing. In this section of the novel, McCullers seeps the reader in the world of adolescence, a world in which Frankie is curious but gets only hints at answers, a world in which Frankie longs to do and be, but can only long. A world in which no one takes Frankie seriously for any length of time because she alienates them as quickly as she attracts them.
Two times Frankie mentions "lighting out" for some place distant from her home town. The reader should note that at the end of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck Finn "lights out for the territories" never to be bothered again with what he calls civilization. With her girl’s story, Carson McCullers is certainly commenting on Twain’s boy’s story. Frankie, too, wants to light out, but she immediately considers the problems of where she will go, how she will get there, and where she will stay once she’s there. Instead of getting to light out, Frankie has to stay put and live with the angst of adolescent powerlessness.
The novel takes place during the second World War. McCullers maintains her child’s point of view as she includes this historical detail. Frankie thinks of the war in a handful of images she’s gathered from the radio. At one point, Berenice mentions hearing on the radio that the French had chased the Germans from Paris. Frankie only responds by repeating the word "Paris" and then continuing with her monologue about changing her name to Jasmine so her name would match the first two letters of her brother and his fiancee’s names. The war is something that Frankie experiences cosmically. It is an epic dislocation of her world. A world that once was neatly mapped on her school’s globe in different colors is now loose and wild and changeable.
One of the events of Frankie’s summer that throws her into her August funk is that in April, she commits "a queer sin" with Barney MacKean, which makes her hate him and want to kill him. McCullers represents this first sexual encounter as Frankie has experienced it. She has named it a huge and unfathomable sin and she has repressed it as much as possible. She has felt anger and rage about it, but these emotions by August have subsided and she has begun to forget about it. The reader should note that McCullers was breaking new ground in representing adolescent sexuality in non-condemnatory ways. The reader gets the impression that Frankie is being rather too hard on herself for a simple sexual exploration and that it is a shame she doesn’t have anyone to discuss it with.
Frankie’s twin insights in this chapter are first, that she doesn’t belong to any club and second, that Janice and Jarvis are "the we of me." The rest of the novel is Frankie’s attempt to achieve this dream. She changes her name to F. Jasmine Addams.Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version