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Free Study Guide for The Member of the Wedding-McCullers

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McCullers plots the novel according to place. The plot centers around the kitchen. It is a place of stasis during the first two books of the novel, a place of stuckness from which Frankie wants to escape, but from which she also gains all her knowledge of the world. The kitchen is the place from which Frankie ventures out. She ventures out four times. First, she goes to buy her wedding dress and in the process makes a date with the red-haired soldier at the Blue Moon. It is on this day that Frankie goes around the town meeting people and feeling for the first time a connection to the other people in town. Second, she goes to Sugarville to have Big Mama read her fortune and then to the Blue Moon to have her second and climactic encounter with the red-haired soldier. Third, she goes to Winterhill, a town one hundred miles south of her own town, where she sees her brother get married and feels the humiliation of rejection when the couple leave her behind. Fourth, upon returning home, she takes her suitcase and her fatherís pistol and runs away, ending up at the Blue Moon again where the sheriff finds her and returns her to her father. In each of Frankieís sojourns, she takes another step toward maturity, each time testing the boundaries of the world outside and feeling for her own place in it.


The Member of the Wedding is the first novel devoted exclusively to the discomforts of a girlís adolescence. Carson McCullers maintains the girlís point of view throughout the novel, never leaving that point of view to take the adult perspective on the action and comment on Frankieís choices or experiences. With this technique, McCullers gives full voice to girls, a traditionally voiceless group. She structures the readerís perception of the actions of the plot from this point of view alone, forcing the reader to see the world from Frankieís uncomfortable point of view.

In choosing the age of twelve, the margins of childhood and teenage years, McCullers is able to focus on the uncomfortable state of "becoming." Frankie Addams doesnít yet know what she will become. When she, Berenice, and John Henry tell stories about what they would do if they were the creator of the world, Frankieís world is a mixed world. She likes Bereniceís idea that the world be peaceful and that there be no wars, but she also canít give up the romanticism of war heroes, so she creates a war island where people who want war can go so that can be heroes. She also imagines a world in which girls can change to be boys and back again and boys can do the same. She canít even decide whether to name her cat Charles or Charlina and she calls it a Persian even though itís a short-haired cat. Like her life, her imaginary world is an adolescentís world of in-betweeneness.

Part of the problem of being in the flux of becoming is the fact that Frankie is unjoined. She doesnít belong to any club. The girls she played with just the summer before are now too old for her and wonít let her join their club. The army wonít take her and the Red Cross wonít accept her heroic offer of blood for the wounded soldiers. Even the time of year is an in-between time. Itís the dog days of summer when the phenomenon occurs that everything gets stuck. If something is lost, it wonít be found until summer is over. She spends her time with Berenice Sadie Brown, who lives in constant longing for her lost love Ludie, her first husband, and has learned the lesson that loss is permanent and that she canít regain the love she had for Ludie with men who share random characteristics of him like a smashed thumb or a winter coat. Her other companion is John Henry West who has fallen in love with the pin head girl at the freak show and who fantasizes about a world of half boys, half girls. Frankie also has many other thoughts of becoming something else and she plays out these fantasies in dress up costumes, in daydreams, and in talk. She dresses up in a Spanish shawl and walks around town acting as if she could speak Spanish. She dresses up in an older girlís clothes and plays the part of a grown up.

When she hears of her brotherís upcoming wedding, she latches onto the idea of becoming part of the wedding, a member of a unified group. A wedding is the ultimate and permanent joining of opposites. Not only will Janice and Jarvis get married, but they will leave on a honeymoon. Frankie has fantasized about leaving town all summer, imagining becoming a famous world traveler. Now she imagines that she will join the wedding and go on a fabulous world-wide honeymoon with her brother and his new wife. When she arrives at the wedding, she is disappointed at every turn. The bride doesnít wear a wedding dress, but a day suit. Her brother treats her like a child. No one but the brideís father will talk to her and he only asks her repeatedly what grade sheís in as if her school status is her only claim to an identity. When the bride and groom get ready to leave, Frankie tries to leave with them and is brought up short by their refusal to take her. Even though Berenice has been telling her all week that her plan to join the wedding is impossible, she has kept it as a fixed idea of the only possible exit from her in-between life.

Yet the novel climaxes before the wedding when Frankie encounters adult sexuality. The scene at the Blue Moon with the redhaired soldier is one of the most poignant scenes of the childís encounter with adulthood in literature. Frankie realizes that thereís something wrong with the unnamed soldier only after her first encounter with him when she comes home and Berenice asks if the man was drunk. This thought hasnít occurred to Frankie. She never finds out what his problem was, why he doesnít recognize that she is a little girl dressed up in an older girlís clothes. Whatever his problem, he takes her up to his room with the obvious intent of having sex with her. Frankie is nervous about going with him, but she has set herself on a path and is unwilling to veer from it. When he begins to kiss her, however, Frankie comes into herself and runs away. It is at this moment that Frankie comes into her own. She doesnít realize this change in herself, as evidenced by the fact that she still goes to the wedding, carrying out her plan to its failed ending. Perhaps it is both events together that push Frankie out of childhood and into teenage life, readying her for her new romance with the wonderful Mary Littlejohn.

With Mary Littlejohn, Frankie finally finds a place of belonging and connectedness. Not many details are given about Mary Littlejohn, but what is given indicates that Mary is something of an outsider as well. Sheís a Catholic in a town full of Protestants and she sucks her pigtails, certainly not a habit that will get her invited into the older girlsí club. At the end of the novel, Frankie, now Frances, leaves behind her constructed family. John Henry is dead and Berenice is broken by the injustice of the universe and the racism of the judicial system. Frankie and her father will live in a new house with John Henryís parents and the reader imagines that this family life will give Frankie more stability for embarking on her future life as a world traveler.


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