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The Member of the Wedding

Carson McCullers

Part Two, Chapter 2

Part Two, Chapter 1

Part Two, Chapter 3

Summary

F. Jasmine returns home at two p.m. on Saturday and the narrative continues to cover the period skipped over in Part One. However, it still never mentions the visit from Janice and Jarvis that Berenice and Frankie recapitulated in Part One. Berenice announces that she and John Henry will be accompanying F. Jasmine to the wedding. Also, due to Uncle Charles' death, John Henry will stay with the Addamses for a few days. F. Jasmine worries that the death will detract from the excitement of the wedding.

F. Jasmine tells about her afternoon in town and about the Soldier. When the ever-insightful Berenice asks F. Jasmine if the Soldier was drunk, F. Jasmine is disturbed and claims that people don't do such a thing in the middle of the day. Berenice proceeds to criticize F. Jasmine's plans to join in on the marriage, pointing out to her that Noah admitted only two of each animal into the Ark. F. Jasmine threatens to shoot herself with her father's pistol, should her plan fail.

At four p.m., the three of them sit down to a lengthy dinner and begin to talk about love, a subject F. Jasmine has never discussed. Berenice tells of a couple she knows in which a woman fell in love with a man who later changed had a sex change. F. Jasmine is in disbelief. Berenice says F. Jasmine needs a beau, which is an old fashioned word for boy friend, and suggests Barney MacKean, only to be met with protests. Berenice tells F. Jasmine to be more feminine and F. Jasmine cannot believe Berenice hasn't noticed the change in her, how she is less abrasive and child-like. F. Jasmine is surprised to learn that Berenice, who is over forty, is not interested in settling down with her own beau, T.T., and is still interested in pursuing a good time,so to speak. However, F. Jasmine doesn't really know what having a good time means in the first place. We assume that this means having sex with different men.

While a piano is tuned in the neighborhood, playing incomplete and dissonant scales, F. Jasmine shows Berenice her wedding outfit. Berenice disapproves of the gaudy silver shoes and silver bow, pointing out how ridiculous they look with F. Jasmine's blond crew cut and dirty elbows. F. Jasmine then shivers at the thought of all the dead people she knows.

At five p.m., the three of them have a second round of dinner. They discuss what they would do if they were God and ran the world. John Henry's vision includes a world made entirely of sweet things to eat. Berenice dreams of a time when there is no division between black and white, with no war or hunger. F. Jasmine further breaks down barriers by allowing people to change from boys to girls and back at will. Berenice balks at the laws of nature F. Jasmine would be breaking.

Berenice asks F. Jasmine to tell about her experience when she thought she saw Janice and Jarvis out of the corner of her eye earlier in the afternoon. This experience triggers a memory in Berenice and she describes her first marriage to Ludie, who died not long after they were married. Some time after his death, Berenice spotted the thumb of a man, Jamie Beale, out of the corner of her eye. Ludie had had a mangled thumb, owing to a farming accident. The sight of a new thumb stuck Berenice and not long after she married Jamie.

Berenice and F. Jasmine then light up cigarettes and have a frank discussion about love. Berenice explains how every one of her three marriages after Ludie was just an attempt to repeat what she once had. Berenice cautions F. Jasmine from falling in love with an idea in the same way and she warns of the imminent disappointment that F. Jasmine will feel at the wedding.

F. Jasmine announces that she will take two baths to fully cleanse herself. She asks Berenice why it is illegal to change one's name. Berenice says because such a thing just leads to confusion and because names accumulate meaning after time that cannot be shed. F. Jasmine gets existential and marvels that there is such a thing as a difference between two selves, saying, "Doesn't it strike you as strange that I am I, and you are you?" She wonders if, when people look at colors, they see the same thing as one another and Berenice says there is no way to prove such a thing.

In a moment of unity, F. Jasmine climbs in Berenice's lap and the two breathe in time with each other. Berenice says she understands F. Jasmine's question about the separation of the selves, about how we are all trapped because of these differences. Berenice explains to F. Jasmine that she is trapped even more so because she is black and lives in an oppressive world. F. Jasmine says that the words "loose" and "caught" are interchangeable in this context because we are caught in a system but still loose in the fact that we are disconnected from one another. Suddenly, the three of them all begin to cry in unison.

Analysis

This chapter develops the major theme about the rules that govern the world in which we live. F. Jasmine marvels at Berenice's tales of the man who changed his sex. She cannot seem to understand how a man could become a woman. Because that would break one of the most fundamental divisions in human life: the division between male and female. Ironically, F. Jasmine is herself such a tom boy, with a blonde crew cut and dirty elbows, that her efforts to mature are really attempts to alter her gender. When she proudly states how she is going to cleanse herself, it is to shed the skin of androgyny and morph completely into a woman. Unfortunately, F. Jasmine does not know what the rules of being a woman are. Further, Berenice tries to explain to her why she cannot join in on his brother's marriage with the Noah's Ark analogy. Without actually mentioning sex, Berenice does her best to explain to F. Jasmine the laws of nature. But F. Jasmine is clearly still too ignorant and unprepared for such information.

Dividing lines, a major theme in the novella, play a strong role in the exploration of life's rules. Frankie cannot get over the existential concept that each person is his or her separate entity, totally isolated from other human beings. This leads to Berenice's revelation that all people are "caught"; and hence, Frankie's take that they are alternately "loose." These are the unfortunate rules that one must live by and which Frankie must come to comprehend. But, as we see, she need not accept them as whole truths. Because, even if there is a great distinction between the races, she still finds unity with Berenice when the two of them breathe in time. By doing so, their physicality is brought together and F. Jasmine's fears of disconnectedness are appeased. This is a greatly hopeful message of unity and acceptance that McCullers projects, in a time and place of great racism and divisiveness.

It is particularly strange that this part never mentions the visit we heard about in Part One that was supposed to take place at some point during the day on Saturday. Unless it happened before F. Jasmine left the house that morning, it had to have happened between two p.m., the point when F. Jasmine returns home, and 5:45 p.m., which is where Part One picks up. One of McCullers's talents as a writer is to smoothly skip over time, jumping hours or even days between paragraphs. We can only assume that at some point she slyly drove around actually describing the visit first-hand. As it comes to pass, when we actually do see the wedding, it is only described first-hand in a single paragraph. The rest of the highly brief description is all reflected back on.

Only hearing about Janice and Jarvis by means of recapitulation increases the aura of fantasy that surrounds them. It's almost as if they don't really exist at all except within F. Jasmine's vivid imagination, that she has constructed them as mere objects onto which to project her desire for unity and membership. After all, Jarvis has been stationed in Alaska for over two years. When a child is only twelve, this is long enough to forget the reality of somebody they know and start replacing it with fantasies.

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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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