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Free Study Guide for The Member of the Wedding-McCullers

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Frances is dressed in her Swiss dress and carrying her suitcase down the stairs at six in the morning. She has her wedding dress in her suitcase, ready to be worn in Winter Hill. She leaves with her father, Berenice, and John Henry on the bus and at first sits apart from them so she seems more like an "accustomed traveler." She is disappointed that they seem to be traveling south rather than north. The towns get smaller and poorer as they travel. They change buses at the smallest and ugliest town, called Flowering Branch.

The wedding is like a dream, "for all that came about occurred in a world beyond her power. From the first to the last, when the couple drove off together, after the "wrecked wedding." It all seems like a nightmare. She flings herself down and yells "Take me! Take me!" By the afternoon, it is all over and they are on the bus homeward bound.

Frances sits on the bus crying hard wanting the whole world to die. She sits in the back of the bus next to Berenice. For the first time in her life she uses the word "nigger" in her thoughts. John Henry had enjoyed every minute of the wedding, including the misery at the end. Frances hates him completely as he sits dressed in his white suit stained with strawberry ice cream in the front of the bus with her father. She hates herself worse than she hates everyone else in the world.

Berenice tries to coax her into cheering up. John Henry jokes with her for having been put out of the wedding. Frances sits bunched up thinking over the moments of the wedding. It was like the bridge games she had played with Berenice and John Henry at the beginning of the summer. No one could win because the cards were all poor. Finally John Henry had admitted to having cut out the jacks and then the queens to keep the jacks company. Frances canít point out single faults in the wedding, but knows it was all wrong. Janiceís parents along with most of the adults there who spoke to her asked her several times what grade she was in. She had wanted to speak to Janice and Jarvis to tell them her plans, but could never find the right moment. She had stood in the brideís room as her friends surrounded her and helped her get dressed and wanted to say "you are the we of me. Please take me with you from the wedding, for we belong to be together." She never could find the moment for it, though. The bride hadnít even worn a wedding dress. She had worn a day suit.

When Janiceís father brought their suitcases down, Frances had hurried to get her own suitcase and the rest was like a "nightmare in which a wild girl in the audience breaks onto the stage to take upon herself an unplanned part that was never written or meant to be." She had called out "Take me!" and gotten into the car. They had pleaded with her and finally they pulled her out by force.

Berenice interrupts her thoughts to tell her school will soon begin and she will be in the A section of the seventh grade and will meet a lot of nice new children. Frances tells her it was all a joke and that she had never planned to go with the couple. Berenice tells her she has planned a party for Frances. She will have a "lovely bridge party" inside and outside they will have a rough party in the back yard. Berenice suggests that she could call the society editor of the Evening Journal to announce the party and then her name would have been in the paper four times. Frankie remembers the last time her name was in the paper. It was misprinted "Fankie." John Henry tells her they can go home and put up a teepee in the back yard. Frances ignores both of them.

Frances decides that even though the wedding hadnít included her, she would still go into the world. "If she could not go in the way she had planned, safe with her brother and the bride, she would go, anyway." She even thinks about the soldier. Then she thinks of dressing like a boy and joining the Marines. She writes a letter that night in her room to her father. She tells him her "life has become a burden" and she will leave home now. She asks him not to try to capture her and asks him to tell Berenice not to worry about her. She waits for everyone to go to sleep and then she tip-toes to her fatherís room and takes his money, only three dollars, and his pistol. She hears John Henry calling her as she gets to the door. She tells him to go to sleep and she will be there by the time he wakes up. Her father wakes up and Frances runs.

Since her father didnít have as much money as she had hoped, she decides she will have to jump a box car, but as soon as she thinks of it, she realizes she doesnít know how. She doesnít know where she should go. The streets are "lonesome and idle." She walks for a long time and then, not wanting to attract notice walking around town with a suitcase, she stops in the ally behind Finnyís Place. When she sits down, she realizes she has been holding the pistol in her hand the whole time. She thinks she should shoot herself. She points the pistol to the side of her head and holds it there for a minute or two. She thinks of death as a blackness that would go on forever. She puts the pistol in her suitcase. She remembers this is the alley where Lon Baker was killed. They had slit his throat. She thinks of the red-haired soldier she had killed. She thinks of running away with the organ grinder and his monkey. She sees a cat and calls out to it, hoping itís Charles/Charlina, but it runs away. She remembers Big Mamaís fortune. All its elements have already come true. She thinks of going to Big Mama to get another future.

She reaches the point where "any sudden idea seems a good idea." She thinks again of the soldier and decides that if heís not dead, she should marry him and go away with him. She hurries along to the Blue Moon. When she gets inside, she sits down. She is not there long when Officer Wylie comes in and tells her they have been looking for her. As he talks to her, she notices the red-haired soldier walking up the stairs and realizes she hadnít killed him after all. She isnít sure yet what she has been captured for, whether it was for her crimes of the spring and summer. He tells her to sit there while he talks on the phone. When he comes back, she tells him she had been planning to go to Flowering Branch. He tells her that her father had called the police about her and they had been looking ever since. She is upset that it was her father who had gotten the police to catch her. She would feel better if she were being caught for one of her crimes and being taken to jail where she could bang on walls that were visible to the eye. She begins to feel separate from everyone again and the feeling terrifies her. She tries to make eye contact with people in the bar to no avail. Finally her father comes in the door.

Frances never speaks of the wedding again. The season has changed and Frances has turned thirteen. It is the last afternoon Berenice will work for them. Frances and her father are going to live with Aunt Pet and Uncle Eustace. The kitchen has been renovated and all of John Henryís pictures are long since painted off the wall. The thought of John Henry brings a hush on Francesís thoughts. The same thing happened when anyone mentioned Honey. He has been sentenced to eight years.

Frances is in the kitchen making sandwiches for Marry Littlejohn who is coming at five oíclock. Berenice is sitting at the kitchen table wearing an old raveled sweater with the "little pinched fox fur that Ludie had given her many years ago" in her lap. Mary is coming to spend the night and ride in the van to the new house tomorrow. Mary and Frances read poets like Tennyson together. Mary plans to become a famous painter and Frances a great poet or the foremost authority on radar. They will travel the world together.

Berenice repeats Maryís name a couple of times. She doesnít like her. Mary has long braids and she sucks the ends of them. The Littlejohns are Catholics and Berenice has acquired a sudden narrow-mindedness. For Frances, the fact adds a touch of strangeness and silent terror which completes "the wonder of love." She tells Berenice she couldnít possibly understand Mary. She sees her words have hurt Berenice. She tells Berenice she is happy that Mary has picked her out to be her best friend. Berenice says she has never said anything against Mary except that her habit of sucking her pigtails makes Berenice nervous.

Berenice sits hunched over. The changes that have happened since the middle of October have been many. Frances had met Mary. Honey broke into a drugstore and was locked up in jail awaiting trial. Berenice had done all she could to raise money for a lawyer. She had come in worn out from all the worry and work and said she had a head ache. John Henry had laid his head on the table saying he did too and no one paid attention to him, thinking he was just imitating Berenice. He had meningitis. After ten days of torturous pain, he was dead. Frances was never allowed to visit him. Berenice nursed him every day and came home with stories that Frances couldnít believe. After he had screamed in pain for three days, "his eyeballs were walled up in a corner stuck and blind. He lay there finally with his head drawn back in a buckled way," too weak to scream any more.

Berenice had continued to work on getting Honey a lawyer. She always says she doesnít know what she had done to deserve having Honey in jail and John Henry suffering so much. They had buried John Henry in the same graveyard as the one Uncle Charles had been buried in. John Henry came to Frances twice in nightmare dreams. Her days were filled with other things, radar, school, and Mary Littlejohn.

Frances tells Berenice her father has gotten a letter from Jarvis from Luxembourg. She tells Berenice she plans to visit Luxembourg on her way around the world with Mary. She looks out the window and then turns around saying "I am simply mad about---" when the doorbell rings.


The narrator begins to call Frankie by her formal name, Frances, in this section, indicating a change in Frankieís maturity. The changes that mark Francesís newfound maturity are varied. She is about to lose her mother figure when Berenice leaves the employ of the Addams family, but in a sense she has already lost Berenice to worry over Honey in jail and grief over John Henryís death. Moreover, in growing up, she has lost the constant need she formerly had of Bereniceís mothering. She has lost her childhood friend John Henry and has learned that there is no justice in the world. John Henry suffered a horrible end, wracked with pain, when he had done nothing to deserve it. Honey, Bereniceís nephew who never fit in anywhere, has been locked up in jail for a petty crime and all his potential will be bled away in the years of his incarceration. Berenice has lost her spirit, sitting slackly at the kitchen table voicing anti-Catholic bigotry when once she was the only one in Francesís life who spoke of the oneness of humanity. On the other hand, Frances is euphoric over a new friendship with Mary Littlejohn. She now belongs.


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