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Free Study Guide for The Member of the Wedding-McCullers

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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.


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