BookRags Literature Study Guide The Member of the Wedding by Carson Mccullers

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BookRags Literature Study Guide
The Member of the Wedding by Carson Mccullers
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The following sections of this BookRags Literature Study Guide is offprint from Gale's For Students Series: Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Works: Introduction, Author Biography, Plot Summary, Characters, Themes, Style, Historical Context, Critical Overview, Criticism and Critical Essays, Media Adaptations, Topics for Further Study, Compare & Contrast, What Do I Read Next?, For Further Study, and Sources.
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The following sections, if they exist, are offprint from Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: "Social Concerns", "Thematic Overview", "Techniques", "Literary Precedents", "Key Questions", "Related Titles", "Adaptations", "Related Web Sites". (c)1994-2005, by Walton Beacham.
The following sections, if they exist, are offprint from Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults: "About the Author", "Overview", "Setting", "Literary Qualities", "Social Sensitivity", "Topics for Discussion", "Ideas for Reports and Papers". (c)1994-2005, by Walton Beacham.
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Regarded by many critics as Carson McCullers's most accessible work, The Member of the Wedding is a sensitive portrayal of twelve-year-old Frankie Addams. McCullers was able to finish the novel with the help of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Institute of Arts and Letters grant, and several summers at Yaddo, a writers' colony in New York. Much of the material for the novel is autobiographical. The town in which Frankie lives is based on McCullers's hometown of Columbus, Georgia. McCullers's father, like Frankie's, was a jeweler, and her family had employed African- American servants in her childhood home. Many of Frankie's feelings of awkwardness are drawn from McCullers's own memories of what it was like to be twelve years old. She, like Frankie, felt like a gangly misfit whose tomboyish ways made it difficult to fit in with boys or girls her age.
At the urging of her friend Tennessee Williams, McCullers's adapted the novel into a play. The play was highly successful, opening on Broadway in 1950 and lasting for fourteen months and 501 performances. In addition, the play received a number of prestigious awards. Despite the popular and critical success of the play, most critics agree that some of the insight into the characters is lost on the stage. It is just such insights, along with believable characters, a smooth writing style, and an unsentimental tone that continue to impress readers and critics alike.
Author Biography
Carson McCullers was born Lula Carson Smith on February 19, 1917, in Columbus, Georgia. Mc- Cullers's mother had early intuitions that her daughter was destined for greatness. Consequently, as a child, McCullers was lavished with attention by her mother to the exclusion of her two other siblings. Her musical ability became apparent at an early age, and when she graduated from high school, she was sent to the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York City. Because her family could not afford such an expensive school, they sold a family heirloom ring to pay the tuition. Before she enrolled, however, McCullers's roommate lost all of their money, and McCullers was forced to take odd jobs instead of attending Juilliard. She enrolled in writing classes at Columbia and New York University where her ability to write compelling fiction developed.
In 1936, McCullers met an army corporal named James Reeves McCullers. They married the following year, beginning a tumultuous marriage. Her writing career took off in 1939 with the publication of her critically acclaimed novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. That same year, McCullers began writing The Member of the Wedding, a novel she would work on for seven years. Her other works include The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Reflections in a Golden Eye.
McCullers and her husband separated and reconciled numerous times. In addition, the mid-1940s brought the beginning of McCullers's health problems, including recurrent influenza and pleurisy. Her failing health did not stop the couple from traveling extensively around Europe, however, until she suffered a debilitating stroke at the age of thirty. In 1948, she attempted suicide. By 1953, when her husband tried to talk her into a double suicide, she was no longer interested in taking her life so she left him in France to return home. Soon after, he killed himself.
Unable to write much in the last years of her life because of further strokes, McCullers became quite eccentric, opting to wear white almost constantly. She often gave interviews wearing white nightgowns and tennis shoes. She underwent surgeries to repair damage from strokes, a heart attack, and a broken hip, and she had a cancerous breast removed. On August 15, 1967, McCullers suffered from a massive brain hemorrhage and fell into a forty-seven-day coma. She died on September 28 and is buried beside her mother in Oak Hill Cemetery in Nyack, New York.
Plot Summary
Part One
Frankie Addams is an awkward twelve-yearold tomboy who is out of school for the summer. She lives with her widower father (her mother died in childbirth) and an African-American housekeeper named Berenice. Her father, who is seldom home, runs a successful jewelry store in the small mill town where they live. Berenice, as a result, is closer to a parental figure for Frankie than is her father. Frankie's six-year-old cousin, John Henry, often spends the days and nights with Frankie. Frankie feels like a misfit because she is so tall, has cropped hair, and is no longer included in the group of slightly older neighborhood girls. At the same time, she is at a point in her adolescence where she begins struggling with her identity and self-esteem.
Frankie reads about the events of World War II and imagines the adventures of soldiers all over the world. She wants to be a part of it because she desperately wants to be a part of something she can easily define. Her brother, Jarvis, is stationed in Alaska in the army. When he returns home briefly to announce his upcoming wedding, Frankie is elated. Through a combination of wishful thinking and youthful naiveté, she becomes convinced that she will go with her brother and his bride on their honeymoon, then live with them wherever they go afterward. Believing that she has solved the problem of not belonging anywhere, she begins planning for her new life.
Part Two
The day before the wedding, Frankie puts on her pink dress, stockings, lipstick, and perfume and goes into town. Instead of Frankie, she starts calling herself F. Jasmine. She feels the need to see all the familiar sights for the last time, and along the way she tells everyone who will listen about her plans to leave the town and live with her brother. When she meets a red-haired soldier, he invites her to the Blue Moon, a local bar and hotel. He does not seem to realize how young she is, and he buys her a beer. As she is leaving, he asks her for a date that night, and she hesitantly agrees. Before returning home, she stops to buy a dress to wear to the wedding after visiting her father in his jewelry store.
Frankie learns that her Uncle Charles has died but is relieved that this will not change her family's plans to attend the wedding the next day. Later, she and Berenice and John Henry sit at the table eating dinner and playing cards, and they begin talking about Berenice's life, love, and the pains of growing older. Frankie decides to visit Berenice's mother, Big Mama, who is a fortuneteller, and then goes to meet the soldier. When he sees her, he suggests that they go up to his room. Frankie is uneasy but agrees. When the soldier makes advances toward her, she hits him over the head with a glass pitcher and escapes. When she arrives home, she says nothing of the incident and is sent to bed. The family must rise early the next morning to catch a bus to the wedding.
Part Three
The day of the wedding goes by in a blur for Frankie. She never has a chance to talk to her brother or to his bride about her desire to go with them, and when she gets in the honeymoon car after the wedding, her father pulls her out. Frankie screams after the car, "Take me! Take me!" When she gets home, Frankie makes a half-hearted attempt to run away, but her father finds her.
A year later, Frankie (who is now called Frances) is helping her family prepare to move to another house. Berenice will not be going with them, as she has decided to marry her suitor, T. T.; and John Henry has died of meningitis. Frankie is now more mature, however, and is able to handle unexpected changes. She has a new friend named Mary, a girl her own age with similar interests.
Part 1 Summary
It is mid-August in Alabama. Frankie Addams, age 12, is not a member of anything. She has spent most of her summer in the kitchen with her 6-year-old cousin John Henry and the cook, Bernice, feeling hot, bored, and afraid.
Frankie has a number of fears. For one thing, Frankie is sincerely afraid that she is going to grow to be over 9 feet tall. This summer, she's grown 4 inches, and she won't be 13 until November. If she keeps growing until she's 18, Frankie thinks, she'll be a circus freak.
Until April of this year, Frankie had been like other people. She belonged to a club and was in the 7th grade. She worked at her father's jewelry shop on Saturday mornings and went to the show on Saturday afternoon. She used to sleep in bed with her father, but it wasn't because she was afraid. Until April, she wasn't the kind of person to think of being afraid.
In April, though, Frankie became concerned about the world, which was embroiled in World War II. It seemed to her cracked and broken beyond repair. She was sorry she couldn't be a Marine. She tried to donate blood, but they said she was too young. Frankie wasn't afraid of the German or Japanese, but she was upset because the war didn't include her. It made her feel separate from the whole world. After she couldn't donate blood, Frankie knew that she ought to leave town and go far away.
Another day in April, Frankie's father teased her and said she was too big to sleep with him anymore. She began sleeping in her own room upstairs, but it hurt her feelings. Now, she and her father are awkward with each other, and she has a little grudge against him.
That spring, all kinds of things had begun to hurt Frankie that never used to hurt her before. Just seeing a sunset or hearing a voice call outdoors after dark caused an aching feeling. It was an ache that left her wondering who she was and what she would grow up to be. First, she tried being silly and playful, but it did not relieve the ache.
Frankie then became a criminal. She carried her father's pistol all over town and shot up his cartridges in an empty lot. She even shoplifted a pocketknife from Sears and Roebuck. One Saturday, she committed a strange "sin" with Barney MacKean in his garage. Frankie didn't know exactly what it was, but afterward, she couldn't look anyone in the eye and wanted to kill Barney.
By the end of the summer, Frankie no longer thinks of the war, and she doesn't leave home very much. She's afraid of Barney, her father and the Law, but she tries not to think about them. She's determined not to hurt anymore. She spends her days eating, writing shows, playing bridge with Bernice and John Henry, and throwing knives against the side of the garage.
There's really no one else to play with. Frankie's best friend, Evelyn Owen, has moved to Florida. A group of older girls that used to include Frankie have formed a club that doesn't include her. Even her cat Charlie has run away. Frankie has no one left and no reason to stay in town. She packed her suitcase weeks ago, but can't think where to go.
Now, however, something has Frankie's interest and attention. She has learned that her brother Jarvis is to be married in Winter Hill this Sunday, and she and her father are going to the wedding. Jarvis, a soldier, has come back from a 2-year stint in Alaska. He brought his fiancée Janice to the house to make the announcement. Frankie thinks they are meant to be because both their names begin with JA. She wishes her name began that way, too, so she could be one of them.
To think of Jarvis and Janice driving away from her gives Frankie a pain. Even though they left hours ago after making their announcement, Frankie can still feel them going away from her. She remembers her cat Charlie and says to Bernice, "It looks to me like everything has just walked off and left me."
Suddenly, Frankie announces to Bernice that she is going to run away. After the wedding, Frankie says, she'll not come back here to live. Bernice doesn't take this announcement very seriously and teases Frankie about having a crush on the wedding. Once Frankie has this idea, though, it relieves the ache in her heart, and she feels she knows where she belongs. She belongs with Jarvis and Janice.
When Bernice leaves for the evening, and the house is quiet, Frankie remembers the Marlowes. Frankie's mother had died when she was born, and Frankie's grandmother came and took care of her. When Frankie was 9, her grandmother died, and Frankie's father rented the extra bedroom to Mr. and Mrs. Marlowe. This couple fascinated Frankie. When they were away from home, she used to go look at all their belongings.
One Sunday afternoon, however, Frankie saw Mr. Marlowe having some sort of fit next to Mrs. Marlowe's corset on the bed. She ran to tell Bernice, who slammed the bedroom door and said the Marlowes were common people. Mr. Addams evicted them, and Frankie didn't understand why, although she knew it had something to do with the fit.
Remembering all this, Frankie is walking over to John Henry's house after dark, when she suddenly finds words for how she feels about her brother and the bride. "They are the we of me," she tells herself. Frankie feels that she has spent all of her life alone, as an "I," but now that she has seen the wedding couple, she feels that she is a member of a "we."
Once at John Henry's, Frankie becomes angry, because he doesn't feel like sleeping over at her house. She screams that she only invited him because he looked "so ugly and lonesome." This surprises John Henry, because he doesn't feel a bit lonesome. Frankie wants to leave when she hears this, but instead, begins jabbering about her wedding plans. Then, a horn begins to play. First it plays sad and low, then a jazzy tune, and then the blues song again. It hurts Frankie when the horn breaks off its playing in the middle of the tune. It squeezes her heart until John Henry asks her where she intends to go after the wedding. Frankie feels her heart break open into two wings, and she finally knows. She will go with her brother and the bride wherever they go. "I love the two of them so much," she tells John Henry. Frankie feels that the questions about what will become of her and who she is are solved. She is no longer afraid.
Part 1 Analysis
Frankie Addams is introduced to the reader as a young girl at the very end of her childhood. Her fear of being 9 feet tall shows how young and innocent she is. While innocence is sweet, it causes Frankie some pain. For instance, the girls she used to play with, ages 13-15, have begun to talk about sex. She refuses to believe what she calls their nasty lies, and so she is left out of their club on the grounds that she is still a baby.
The feeling that Frankie is alone in the world, not included in anything, is the major theme of this story. Frankie is suffering a typical adolescent crisis. She is too young to help the war effort, but at the same time she's too big to sleep with papa anymore. She is an outsider no matter what she does, so Frankie has become angry and afraid. She feels disconnected from the whole world.
While Frankie's crisis is typical of adolescence, there are some factors that complicate her grief over the end of her childhood. She has had a lot of losses this year. She's lost the old comfortable relationship with her father, her best friend, and even her cat. Although these losses happened just last spring, Frankie feels that she has always been alone. There is some truth to that. Because her mother died in childbirth, Frankie never had the newborn experience of being a "we." The world has always been a place where she felt cut loose.
On top of everything else, Frankie has been exposed to sexuality in some way that has left her feeling ashamed and angry. Her throwing the knives against her garage seems to be evidence of her rage against Barney's actions in his garage. The reader never knows exactly what happened, because Frankie doesn't like to think about it.
Frankie's memories of the Marlowes are more evidence of her innocence. Through these memories, the reader also sees that Frankie has been fascinated with couples for a long time, not just Jarvis and Janice. This makes sense because she's never lived with a couple, although she has seen them in other people's houses. When Frankie cooks up the idea of going off with Jarvis and Janice, the reader experiences dread, because it's inevitable that Frankie will be disappointed and feel left out once again.
The author, Carson MacCullers, uses music in an interesting way to set the scene for this story. Music is always broken off in the middle of a melody. There is the radio that used to play all summer, but which Jarvis suddenly turned off to make his announcement. There is the horn with its broken song. These are symbols of all the losses and broken relationships that Frankie has faced this year.
MacCullers pays a lot of attention to time in this story, too. The description of the clock's ticking, as well as the frequent mention of what time it is, helps to convey how hot, lazy, and slow this summer has been for Frankie.
The setting of the story is a small town in Alabama during World War II. Because there is no air-conditioning and no television, Frankie can hear music and conversations going on outside her house. She hears people talking, playing, and working. To the modern reader, this may seem like a portrait of idea communal life, but being surrounded by people never spared anyone from isolation, and it doesn't save Frankie from the loneliness of being 12.
Part 2, Chapter 1 Summary
The old Frankie, who wasn't a member of anything, is gone. She has become F. Jasmine, who is a member of the wedding. F. Jasmine makes her plans to join the JA wedding party of Jarvis and Janice in Winter Hill, and she will go with them wherever they go. She will travel with them wherever her brother may be stationed, all over the world.
F. Jasmine spends Saturday before the wedding saying goodbye to her hometown. She wears her best pink organdy dress instead of the shorts and Mexican hat she wore all summer. F. Jasmine is such a new person that she no longer carries a grudge against her father for saying she was too big to sleep with him. She tries to tell her papa that she won't be back after the wedding, but he doesn't listen. F. Jasmine feels a little sorry for him. She realizes how lonesome he will be after she's gone, and he doesn't even know it.
In addition to saying goodbye to familiar places, F. Jasmine goes into places the old Frankie has never been, including a place called the Blue Moon. F. Jasmine comes to the Blue Moon by following the sounds of the monkey and the monkey man. She has not seen them all summer, but she loves them and wants to tell them goodbye. She follows the sound of the organ, but it suddenly stops before F. Jasmine can follow its sound to them, so she goes into the Blue Moon instead. There, a bartender is the first in town to hear F. Jasmine tell about her wedding plans.
After telling her story, F. Jasmine looks down toward the end of the bar and sees a red-haired soldier looking at her. For the first time, she is able to look a soldier in the eye and not feel jealous. The old Frankie envied soldiers because they could go places and were included in the war. Now that F. Jasmine has plans of her own, she can look upon the soldier as a fellow traveler. She sees no hint of danger in him.
The red-haired soldier doesn't speak, and F. Jasmine leaves the Blue Moon. She walks all over town and tells her plans to anyone who will listen. In the back of her mind, F. Jasmine imagines how surprised Bernice will be to hear of her striking up conversations with strangers.
At 11:30 a.m., F. Jasmine stops at her father's jewelry store. Mr. Addams directs Frankie to go home because Bernice has been looking for her. He also tells her that Uncle Charles died this morning. Uncle Charles was not really F. Jasmine's uncle. He was John Henry's uncle from the other side of John Henry's family. Therefore, F. Jasmine is sorry to hear the news, but not terribly sad about it. Her wedding plans push it aside.
On her way home, F. Jasmine is to stop by MacDougal's department store to charge a new dress and shoes for the wedding. She hears the monkey man's organ, however, and follows the sound. When she finds the monkey and the monkey man, they are in a quarrel with the red-haired soldier. He angrily pushes a fistful of money at the monkey man, apparently trying to buy the monkey. He is drunk, but F. Jasmine does not know that.
After the monkey and monkey man leave the scene, the red-haired solder walks with F. Jasmine and takes her back to the Blue Moon, where he orders her a beer. She feels that she ought to be proud that he's mistaken her for an older girl, but she is uneasy in a way she can't explain. She drinks the beer and agrees to meet the soldier at 9 p.m. for a date.
Back out on the sidewalk, F. Jasmine sees a girl from school. The uneasy feeling suddenly disappears, and she brags to her schoolmate about having a date with a soldier. The girl goes with F. Jasmine to help her pick out her dress and shoes for the wedding, but this isn't exactly what brings the wedding feeling back.
What brings the wedding feeling back is what happens to F. Jasmine on her way home. Out of the corner of her eye, she see a pair of figures and feels strongly it must be Jarvis and Janice, even though she knows they are in Winter Hill preparing for the wedding. When she turns to face the figures, they are two young boys, the taller one resting his arm on the shoulder of the shorter boy. F. Jasmine arrives home at 2 p.m.
Part 2, Chapter 1 Analysis
In an attempt to give voice to her changing identity, as well as to include herself as part of Jarvis and Janice, Frankie renames herself F. Jasmine. Although F. Jasmine certainly has some childish ideas, we begin in this chapter to see some of the good things about her growing up. For the first time, she thinks of her father as a person with feelings. As the story progresses, F. Jasmine will exhibit other positive traits that result from her growing up.
The use of music and clocks continues. The music of the organ grinder lures F. Jasmine toward the Blue Moon, and it stops in the middle of its song, just like the horn did. The author continues to make frequent mention of the time to illustrate how slow it moves from F. Jasmine's perspective.
When F. Jasmine sees nothing dangerous about the red-haired soldier, she foreshadows for the reader that the soldier is dangerous to her. This lack of awareness on her part is one of the reasons that it's necessary for F. Jasmine to give up her childhood naiveté.
F. Jasmine is not as alone as she thinks is. As she goes about the town, feeling connected to strangers, she looks forward to telling Bernice about her morning, and she can imagine what Bernice will say. Bernice's voice lives in her head, just like other girls have mothers whose voices live in their heads. Bernice continues to call her Frankie. F. Jasmine's point of view is that Bernice doesn't recognize that Frankie is gone and that a new person, F. Jasmine, has joined the family. This is a very typical conflict between 12-year-old girls and their mothers. This conflict, however, is partly what helps F. Jasmine articulate her growing consciousness, as the reader will see in the next chapter.

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