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The Member of the Wedding

Carson McCullers

Important Quotations Explained

Part Three

Key Facts

They are the we of me.

Frankie says this to herself as a revelation at the end of Part One when she has gone outside of the house after supper. The "they" in this case is Jarvis and Janice. Frankie has been thinking about the phenomenon that the betrothed couple is together in Winter Hill, while she is separate from them, alone at home. But she finds comfort in the notion, which, as it turns out, is utterly delusional, since she thinks she still belongs to them in some way. With this in mind, the physical separation is trifling, just representational; she is together with them in spirit. Frankie finds meaning in her life in the belief that she belongs to some kind of a club, that she is a member at last.

This is certainly the most fundamental quote in the novella. For is exemplifies the very nature of Frankie's main struggle: which is to find unity with other people. The very second sentence of the book states that "This was the summer when for a long time she had not been a member." So when Frankie realizes that she is a member at last, a member of the wedding, it serves as an important catharsis and a marker for her future character development. However, it also sets her up for a second catharsis: one in which she realizes after the wedding that she was totally kidding herself to believe that she belonged to her brother and his new wife in more than just a distant way. This key moment, put in contrast to the unbridled hope of her first beliefs about the "we of me," allows Frankie to finally mature and become more adult-like. Because, with her childhood fantasies of running away from her surroundings gone, she can become more realistic and grounded. Two key elements to becoming an adult.

A last difference about that morning was the way her world seemed layered in three different parts, all the twelve years of the old Frankie, the present day itself, and the future ahead when the three of them would be together in all the many distant places.

This quote is a description of F. Jasmine's state of mind, which takes place in Part Two, Chapter 1, just as she leaves the Blue Moon bar for the first time on Saturday afternoon. First, it tells the reader that this day is to be one of the most defining and life changing in F. Jasmine's life. This focus on an acute moment development is a hallmark quality of a bildungsroman. This genre of novel generally describes a young person who goes on some journey, be it literal or metaphorical, and comes out a changed person in the end as a result of all that he or she has learned along the way. Another, more succinct way to describe this format is "coming-of-age." So here is F. Jasmine, on a kind of preliminary journey through the town, getting ready to make an even more important journey to Winter Hill to attend the wedding. In her jaunt through the town, she comes face-to-face with a life changing experience: meeting the soldier, who eventually tries to have sex with her. Were it not for her journey, she never would have begun to finally learn about sex. As a result, she grows and changes.

Secondly, the quote is a kind of meta-analysis of the structure of the novella itself. The book is also divided into three parts, with three distinct styles of description as well as names for Frankie. But time does not necessarily flow as logically forward according to McCullers. The author skips over one part of Saturday in Part One and switches back to it in Part Two. By jostling the time frame like this, McCullers disorients the reader and brings them into the fantasy nature of the F. Jasmine experience. She tells us that F. Jasmine is mistaken about time and that it will not always move forward logically. Which further tells us that life is bound to make unexpected turns.

Her father went back behind the gray sour velvet curtain that divided the store into two parts, the larger public part in front and behind a small dusty private part.

This quote describes the jewelry store Mr. Addams works in, during Part Two, Chapter 1, when Frankie visits him and learns about Uncle Charles's death. The novella is filled with descriptions of dividing lines, of rifts between people, of split personalities, or the like. All of these serve as metaphors for the fact that there is a chasm between Frankie and the rest of the world. Other examples are the fact that Big Mama describes Honey as someone God never finished and Frankie imagines him as someone with only half a body. When McCullers writes that Frankie feels "double-minded" about Saturday evening, it suggests she is indecisive.

The duality described in this quote represents several things. It signifies the shift between adulthood and childhood. Frankie is in a kind of limbo between the two points. She sits on the dividing line itself between the two points. And the duality speaks to the difference between the public and private selves, as well as the conscious and unconscious. Frankie changes her name to F. Jasmine to create the surface impression of childhood. However, we know that inside she is still a child, creating wild illogical fantasies that will inevitably disappoint her. She is someone who has very little access to her unconscious motivations or instinctual fears. So it is our job as readers to take away that dividing line, that gray curtain, which hides her true feelings. That way, we can fully interpret her character for ourselves.

If you start with A and go on up to G, there is a curious thing that seems to make the difference between G and A all the difference in the world. Twice as much difference as between any other two notes in the scale. Yet they are side by side there on the piano just as close together as the other notes.

F. Jasmine remarks about the piano tuner who works in the neighborhood while Berenice, John Henry and she try to eat dinner in piece. The noise irritates them, but at the same time, it gives them a kind of existential enlightenment about life, whether they realize they have made this connection or not. The quote describes dissonance, the feeling or sense that something has not come to a resolution. In this case, the literal description is a musical one, such as the disconcerting feeling of hearing a musical scale that is incomplete, resting on the final note before finishing. It serves as a metaphor for the weekend described in the novella. Because Frankie is in a period of dissonance, she feels ill at ease, confused and disconnected with the world. She has a desperate desire to move forward in her life, to find the adulthood that is just out of reach. So she has to find a way to take a step forward to find a kind of resolution that will bring her inner peace. Then, and only then, will she be released from the limbo that traps her during the main events of the story.

The quote also brings to mind a similar concept used by Virginia Woolf in her seminal work, To The Lighthouse. In the novel, an aging professor named Mr. Ramsay is fixated by the metaphorical notion that he can never reach the letter R when going through the alphabet. The alphabet represents his intellectual progression and R represents the apex of knowledge that he can never attain. But it also serves as a representation for his own self—since his last name begins with R—which he can never really know. So he lives in a world of dissonance, dissatisfaction. Woolf describes Mr. Ramsay's intellect in similar terms as McCullers: "It was a splendid mind. For if thought is like the keyboard of a piano, divided into so many notes, of like the alphabet is arranged in twenty-six letters all in order, then his splendid mind had no sort of difficulty in running over those letters one by one, firmly and accurately, until it had reached, say the letter Q." Woolf uses the novel to point out the fallacy of thinking about intellectual pursuits in a linear fashion. Like McCullers, she uses time shifts to break up the notion that we should always expect to walk through life in a straight, predictable line. Only by seeing life more buddistically, as something of a circle, can we escape the gnawing feeling of dissonance. Which all comes together, considering that a musical scale is itself circular and linear at the same time. It is moving forward in a logical line, but always coming home every eight notes.

Yet at the same time you almost might use the word loose instead of caught. Although they are two opposite words.

In Part Two, Chapter 2, F. Jasmine responds to Berenice's remarks during dinner that people are all "caught," by the fact that they were born one way or another. From Berenice's perspective, this means to be caught a black person in a world that discriminates against minorities. Berenice says this to express understanding for F. Jasmine's ruminations over the notion of being sectored away from other people, trapped in a cell that cannot bind with any of the other floating particles in the world. So F. Jasmine points out a kind of dichotomy in the situation Berenice has articulated. She says that people may be caught, but they are loose as well. They are loose from each other, and they are, at the same time, caught in a system that creates this looseness.

The overwhelming feeling of disconnectedness serves as a challenge to F. Jasmine to break the rules of society and to live by her own laws. But it also makes a larger social statement about the state of racist discrimination in the 1940s American south. McCullers uses the novella as a pulpit here to take a stand against a world in which old societal rules are so engrained that they are stifling and harmful. It puts F. Jasmine's plight to mature on the same plain as society's need to mature beyond petty discrimination. It makes F. Jasmine's struggle ageless. Because in the same way that she is trying to connect with other people, to break down boundaries, so is Berenice wishing to end the division between black and white and to find a husband to love in the way she once loved Ludie.

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Berenice as a foil of Frankie/F. Jasmine

by susan_shehane, June 08, 2014

Berenice's voice rings like a bird's (McCullers 84), suggesting to Frankie that she is "really not in her right mind," even as the latter talks on and on about herself about herself "as though she was somebody very beautiful; this, despite her one wild blue eye, dregs down her face, etc. Frankie views her as something of a wild animal in the past and finds it almost humorous that Berenice always spoke of herself as though she were beautiful. In F. Jasmine's egocentric, 12-year-old world, where she is, of course, the center of the universe a... Read more

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