Essay on Carson McCullers’ The Ballad of the Sad Café
English 101: ICE
Due: December 5, 2013
The Freak, that human anomaly has long held fascination in life and in literature. From the southern gothic grotesquerie of Carson McCullers’ Ballad of the Sad Café, the freak has been marveled over, and pointed at. Alterity is certainly a facet to the world of the grotesque. Alterity signifies uniqueness that cannot be conceptualized, or comprehended. McCullers’ vision, and connection to the southern grotesque is a fiction of the existential anguish, and The Ballad of the Sad Café is a powerful novella that goes beyond just fictional reading and is the allusion of the other and grotesque. In The Ballad of the Sad Café, the status of alterity isn’t just a minor issue; in fact the story’s central thematic statement is that because of the characters’ gender, race, or physical distortion, human beings have to face loneliness and spiritual isolation, thus being stuck in their alterity. In order to demonstrate that this theme functions in the story in this way, first we will examine how McCullers sympathizes characters as devices of isolation and alienation. They are oppressed in order to portray the requirements of personal interaction for all humans. Next, the setting of the story builds up towards the idea of the town full of misfits and how the café is a symbol of rebelling against Amelia’s inner loneliness and isolation. Finally, the description of Amelia evokes a reversed sense of her gender and negates her femininity, isolating her from our idea of what constitutes a woman. McCullers is not particularly subtle in her obscurity of gender roles. The Ballad of the Sad Café treats human problems with sympathy and understanding, which can also be plucked from the author’s life.1 This Isolation manages to heighten the drama in The Ballad of the Sad Café as the narrative progresses to its dreary endpoint. McCullers depicts the state of the inner isolation through the characters, who represent the alienated and helpless victims caught in the tragic web of circumstances. She makes deliberate use of these “freaks” to symbolize the agony of alienation. McCullers dramatizes the loneliness of the characters as a manifestation of the unreciprocated love. Miss Amelia, the protagonist in the Ballad of the Sad Café, experiences alienation but also momentary triumph, through the solitude and suffering of love. McCullers’ desire to sympathetically depict pain and loneliness can only be fulfilled through a societal situation. Miss Amelia demonstrates this status quo with Cousin Lymon. Cousin Lymon isn’t just “the person responsible for the success and gaiety of the place” (4), but the arrival of Cousin Lymon literally opens Amelia’s heart. However, we are told love is always a matter of unbalanced forces, this is true because in the story they go on with saying that the “beloved fears and hates the lover, and with the best reasons”(26). When Lymon breaks Amelia’s heart by leaving with her hated ex-husband and trashing her café, it’s as if human connection is impossible for Amelia, or that it can only end in betrayal and sadness. Amelia’s weakness is being alienated by Cousin Lymon, which is manifested visually in her crossed eyes, disproportionate body, and her queer masculinity. As is says in the story “And these gray eyes—slowly day by day they were more crossed, and it was as though they sought each other out the exchange a little glance of grief and lonely recognition”(69). As odd as it may seem for Amelia to fixate all her energy and devotion towards Lymon, the story comes to a climatic ending where Lymon shifts his allegiances. In most stories a hunchback who wants to be loved would be considered a sympathetic figure. However, Cousin Lymon is depicted throughout the story as agnostic and childlike. Marvin’s arrival also brought Lymon’s radical change. From that moment on Cousin Lymon could not care...
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