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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.
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.