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Carson Mccullers Essay, Research Paper

Carson McCullers

Having lived a difficult life made Carson McCullers a very strong minded person. Born into a highly respectable family with moderate means, she received an opportunity to play the piano at a very young age. McCullers was the oldest of three children that were born to highly regarded jewelers. At a tender age of seventeen she was diagnosed by doctors as having pneumonia with complications , but later was found to have rheumatic fever. Her Grandfather owned two thousand acres that had 75 slaves keeping it active. These acres were ruined by a fire while her grandfather was still alive and well (Magill, Survey 1212). She married once, but held other relationships while she went away for school in New York City (Baechler 280). She had a divorce a little while after that, leading her into a lonely and sad life that she shared with her aging mother. Her adventures brought out her feelings and she expressed them through her pieces of writing. In her novel The Member of the Wedding, McCullers used bizarre and tortured characters who have disparate purposes and significant meanings. McCullers makes Frankie Addams the most unfortunate character of the book. Frankie is a twelve year old girl trapped within her own mind in a short three days in the book (Hile 153). Being the central character, she is held responsible for the development of the story as well as the existence of the other characters in the novel. Frankie symbolizes the nearly divine nature often assigned to the child at a young age while trying to grow up into a respectable adult. From the first page of the book, McCullers showed Frankie s emotions and difficulties through adult eyes. Frankie does battle with many truths she faces with life, but is too young to fully understand the realities that obscure those truths ( Magill, Masterpieces 308). Her first encounter with facing reality is when her brother, Jarvis, announces his engagement to Janis Evans. Frankie envisions of becoming a member of her brother s wedding as well as attending the honeymoon with them. She holds a belief within herself that would make her belong to the world if she goes with them after the immense ceremony (Hile 161). Two days before the wedding, she finds herself telling everyone she sees on the street about the wedding. Frankie holds many dreams of adventures that they are going to share as a group when they leave for the honeymoon. She is unable to look at the situation in a realistic way and understand how they feel about her going. She fights frantically after the wedding celebration when she finds out she can not attend the honeymoon alongside the newlyweds (Magill, Masterpieces 307). Beside her lack of understanding reality, she is worried about the way she looks. Frankie criticizes everything about herself. She worries about being too tall for her age and her gawky frame. She often has wishes at night about her hair, wanting it longer or shinier (Magill, Masterpieces 307). Some of the girls in town call her a freak or a lanky girl with skinned elbows. The older girls also are a part of many clubs, but never ask Frankie to join. She feels very rejected and blames her looks and character on the separation from her peers (Baechler 284). It is hard for her at first as a little girl, but as she grows older she isolates herself in her dark kitchen. She usually plays cards or talks for hours with her maid Berenice and her cousin John. Her loneliness comes at a young age when her mother dies. From that day on, she feels sad and lonely throughout the long hours of each day (Magill, Masterpieces 307). 6 Frankie s tortured and angry side is also shown from beginning to end in the book. McCullers did not make Frankie out to be the typical young lady. She gets in too much trouble when out of the house, so she mostly passes her days with John and Berenice. She feels very isolated and limited to seeing those two people. This makes her go into sudden rages against them. In one incident, she tries to throw a kitchen knife at the cook, but instead she finds it within herself to throw it at the stairway door missing both Berenice and John. She tries running away on several different occasions as well. Many times throughout the three days of the story, she does not realize what she wants to come out of everything (Magill, Survey 1215-9). Frankie s behavior projects the universal feeling of loneliness. Her search for an identity is found from the longing for the love felt by adolescents (Hile, 155). Frankie s viewpoint in the novel is of primary concern. McCullers characterized Frankie as an incomplete person. Frankie, knowing her incompleteness is terrified of everything that reminds her of such. Frankie is essentially unchanged by the trauma of disappointment over her brother s wedding. At the end of the story, she appears to be over the worst of her childhood. McCullers portrayed the feeling of anxiety felt by Frankie about becoming a mature, honest and well-respected adult (Magill, Masterpieces 307). The second character that McCullers made significant to The Member of the Wedding is Berenice. She is the most interesting character for she serves multiple functions. She is hired by the father of Frankie to care for her at a very young age. She is a short, broad-shouldered African-American older woman. The novel depends on her for several levels of its development. McCullers gave Berenice necessary information to which Frankie has not yet been exposed to but will face in the near future. Berenice feels pity towards 6 Frankie s unhappy life and becomes a surrogate mother to Frankie (Baechler 284). McCullers presented Berenice s unstability by giving her past a symbolic meaning. Berenice was married four times, the last marriage being the worst (Magill, Masterpieces 307). During the fourth marriage, she encountered a fight with her husband which made her lose an eye. The symbolism that McCullers used comes from the ancient literary tradition of the blind or one-eyed person who spoke the truth clearly because of that missing vision. She sees the truth through her glass eye, not through her physically functioning one (Magill, Survey 1220). McCullers used a lot of Latin related words in her writings as well. This is depicted in that glass and truth are related etymologically within the language of Latin (Magill, Masterpieces 307). Berenice is always the one who tries to explain to Frankie and John the simple wisdom life has taught her. She is always trying to keep everyone out of trouble. Berenice is the one always giving sharp practical advice and criticism while having affectionate understanding. She offers kind and motherly comfort when one is in need of it. McCullers illustrated through Berenice that love, even when directed toward vague objective, has the eventual effect of peace and grace (Magill, Masterpieces 307). The last character that is very significant to the novel is John Henry West. He is Frankie s six year old cousin and confident. He had little understanding of what Frankie or Berenice talk to him about throughout the story. He does, ironically, listen when the two of them talk about the dead people they had known in the past. The spiritual singing that is done in the dark kitchen always gives him something to look forward to when he came over their house (Magill, Masterpieces 307). McCullers gave Frankie juvenile companionship when she 6 brought out John s character (Baechler 282). John is progressed into a comparison to Frankie, for he too wanted to grow up quickly and face the circumstances of being responsible. Berenice s glass eye interests him since the first time he sees her. McCullers idea was to show us how John was always interested in the truth and was never going to lie. He shares many experiences and opinions in their household until he dies of meningitis. The pain and suffering that is entwined in the book was shown through John s sudden death (Magill, Masterpieces 307). McCullers explored human conditions from several perspectives, but all with the common focus of loneliness and dissatisfaction. She put a particular individual to attempt to escape isolation and her deep emotions. She also showed us how adults cannot comprehend the adolescent mind while the adolescent mind will never comprehend the adult mind because it is not equipped to do so. All her thoughts on life are interpreted through the feelings and doings of her many distinct characters.

Works Cited

Baechler, Lea, Ed. Modern American Women Writers. New York: Charles Scribner s Sons, 1991. Hile, Kevins, ed. Authors and Artists for Young Adults. Detroit: Gale, 1994. Magill, Frank N., ed. Magill s Survey of American Literature. Vol 4. New York: Salem, 1991. Magill, Frank N., ed. Masterpieces of American Literature. New York: Harper Collins, 1993.


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