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Free Study Guide for The Member of the Wedding-McCullers

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THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING - FREE BOOK NOTES

PART 1

Summary (Continued)

Frankie ignores Berenice’s words and begins to muse on the letters of their names. Janice and Jarvis have names that begin with J A, so Frankie decides to rename herself Jane or Jasmine. Berenice doesn’t understand Frankie’s line of thought. She mentions the news she heard that the French chased the Germans out of Paris. Frankie decides to name herself F. Jasmine Addams, despite Berenice’s claim that it is against the law to change one’s name. John Henry brings out a doll that Frankie has given him. Jarvis had brought it as Frankie’s gift when he visited earlier in the week. Frankie is unhappy that he thought she was child enough to want a doll. John Henry loves the doll and names it Lily Belle because it’s so beautiful. Frankie tells him to take it out of her sight. The clock ticks very slowly.

Frankie goes to the kitchen window to stare at her face. She thinks of her age, twelve and five-sixths years old. The children had begun to make fun of her height. She worries that she will continue to grow at the same rate until she’s eighteen, ending up being over nine feet tall. She remembers the annual Cattahoochee fair which features a freak show. Frankie has seen all of them, from the Giant to the Half-Man Half-Woman. The freaks include one called "the Wild Nigger," who eats live rats which customers bring him. People say he’s not from a "savage island" but from Selma. John Henry had fallen in love with the Pin Head girl whose head was the size of an orange. Frankie has always been bothered by the Freaks because she thinks they give her a secret look as if she’s one of them. Berenice says all the people at the fair give her the creeps. Frankie asks if she ever gives Berenice the creeps. Then she asks if Berenice thinks she will ever grow into a freak. Berenice exclaims "certainly not" and Frankie feels better. Frankie wonders if Berenice thinks she’ll be pretty. Berenice tells her she might if she learns to behave properly. Frankie wants to become pretty before the wedding on Sunday. Berenice advises that she clean herself thoroughly.

Frankie feels a tightness inside herself and says she wishes she could die. Berenice tells her "die then!" and John Henry repeats "Die!" Frankie tells him to go home. She makes a mean face and rushes him out the door. Berenice scolds her on being "too mean to live." Frankie sits on the lower steps of the stairway looking into the kitchen which looks "silent and crazy and sad." She decides to sit by herself and think over everything.

Frankie is tired of being Frankie. She hates being herself because she has become a "big no-good who hung around the summer kitchen: dirty and greedy and mean and sad." Before April, Frankie had been like all other people. She had belonged to a club and was in the seventh grade of school. She was active and she wasn’t afraid. She slept with her father, but not because she was scared of the dark. Then around April, things began to change. Something about the green trees and flowers of April made Frankie sad. She decided then that she should leave town. She had packed her suitcase, but didn’t know where to go.

That year Frankie had thought about the world. She had been used to seeing it like the round school globe, "with the countries neat and different-colored." Now she thought of the world as "huge and cracked and loose and turning a thousand miles an hour." The geography book at school was out of date. Frankie reads the newspaper, but often doesn’t understand what she reads because so many things are happening in so many foreign countries. It is the summer Patton is chasing the Germans across France and fighting is also happening in Russia and Spain. She can’t see it all at once in her mind. Instead, she sees one Russian soldier, frozen to death with his gun. She sees a single Japanese soldier, "a Jap with slanted eyes on a jungle island gliding among green vines." She used to think it would take two months to end the war. Now she doesn’t know. She wishes she were a boy so she could fight as a Marine. She wishes she could win gold medals for bravery. Then she realizes she can’t do that; she tried to give blood to the Red Cross, imagining getting letters from wounded soldiers thanking her for her sacrifice. The Red Cross won’t take her blood, though, because she’s too young. She feels "left out of everything." Her solution is to leave town.


This was the first time things bothered Frankie enough to make her cry. Sometimes she gets up early in the morning and go outside into the yard looking at the sunrise sky. She asks questions, but the sky doesn’t answer. When she sees into houses in the evenings when she walks along the sidewalks, she often feels like crying. She begins to be afraid. She wonders who she is and what she will do in the world. One night in April, she was going to bed and her father looked at her and asked what such an old girl was doing still sleeping with her father. He made her start sleeping in her own room. She began then to have a grudge against her father. She began to go around town. She would also call her best friend Evelyn Owen who owned a football suit and a Spanish shawl. They would dress up and go out. Even that began to lose its charm for Frankie. She walked around town alone feeling sad. She often tried to break the sad mood by doing sudden things, like going home and putting the coal shuttle on her head and walking around the kitchen. She did anything that suddenly occurred to her and what she does is always the wrong thing to do. She tells Berenice one day, "I just wish I could tear down this whole town." Berenice urges her to tear it down, or do anything as opposed to standing around with a gloomy face.

Frankie had begun to get herself into trouble. She broke the law repeatedly. She takes her father’s pistol and shoots it in a vacant lot. She steals a knife from Sears. She commits "a secret and unknown sin" with Barney MacKean in the Mackean’s garage. She felt a "shriveling sickness in her stomach" when she thought of this sin. She hates and wants to kill Barney. She plans the murder, imagining that she’ll use a gun or a knife.

Her best friend Evelyn Owen moves away from town and now Frankie has no one to play with. She thinks every day of "lighting out for" South America or Hollywood or New York city. She can’t decide which place she should choose and how she’ll get there alone. By the end of the summer, Frankie had settled into this horrible routine of doing nothing but feeling afraid. She had lost her fear of Barney, her father, and the Law. She began even to forget the sin she committed in the MacKean’s garage. She stops paying attention to the summer noises and she stops standing in the yard at night to look at the summer stars. Each day is the same, except it is longer, and "nothing hurt her any more."

On that Sunday when her brother brought his fiancee home, Frankie realized everything had changed. She tells Berenice that it gives her a kind of pain to think of the couple. Berenice offers the advice that Frankie should just refrain from thinking about them. Frankie sits on the bottom of the staircase staring into the kitchen. She remembers that on the day her brother came, a curious silence had entered the house. The radio had been on all day every day that summer. When he came, he turned it off. She had come into the room and the first sight of her brother and Janice had "shocked her heart." She felt feelings "like the spring."

She asks Berenice how old she was when she married for the first time. Berenice had already changed into her Sunday clothes and sat in the kitchen waiting for Honey and T. T. Williams to come and get her. The three of them will eat supper at the New Metropolitan Tea Room and then "sashay around town." She tells Frankie she was thirteen years old and she married just because she wanted to. She says she hasn’t grown an inch since then. Frankie is amazed to hear that marrying stops a woman’s growth. Berenice affirms that it does.

Frankie remembers Berenice’s stories of her four marriages. The first had been Ludie Freeman, a brickmason and Berenice’s favorite. He died after nine years of marriage. The other three of Berenice’s husbands were "all bad, each one worse than the one before." The stories of them make Frankie sad. The first of these was a liquor-drinker. The next one went crazy and Berenice finally left him. The last one gouged out Berenice’s eye and stole her furniture.

 

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