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The Member of the Wedding

Carson McCullers

Part Two, Chapter 3

Part Two, Chapter 2

Part Three

Summary

F. Jasmine takes off for Sugarville, the African-American part of town, to get Big Mama to tell her fortune. With John Henry in tow, she passes the jail and gawks at the prisoners, marveling at their entrapment. Like the freaks in the carnival, she has always somewhat related to the prisoners.

She and John Henry arrive at Big Mama's house. Big Mama has the skin disease that sometimes affects black people in which large sections of skin will lose all pigment and turn white. F. Jasmine has always thought Big Mama was gradually becoming a white person.

Big Mama puts on her glasses, ready to tell F. Jasmine's fortune. She listens to F. Jasmine's minimalistic dream about opening a door. Big Mama announces that there will be a change in F. Jasmine's life. She says F. Jasmine will attend a wedding, that there will be a journey, and that there will be a return. F. Jasmine is discouraged by the return part, as that is not a part of her hopes.

Midway through the fortune telling, Big Mama shouts at Honey in the next room for him to take his feet off the kitchen table. F. Jasmine marvels that Big Mama must really be clairvoyant, because there was a wall in the way of Honey and no way for Big Mama to know if his feet were up. However, Honey later explains that Big Mama could see him through a mirror.

F. Jasmine remembers that Big Mama once said that Honey was "a boy God had not finished." When she was younger, she used to imagine that this meant he only had half a body and had to hop around on one foot. But with her new maturity she understands the significance: that Honey is just a bit nuts. Somehow, F. Jasmine derives a kind of power from the upcoming wedding and translates that into a bit of advice for Honey. She tells him that he should go to Cuba or Mexico. She says that he has such light skin that he could turn into a Cuban.

F. Jasmine tells John Henry to run on home and goes to meet the Soldier at the Blue Moon. The two of them sit down together and the Soldier buys drinks. Suddenly disturbed by the thought of breaking the law, F. Jasmine pushes her drink away. The two of them talk, but their conversations do not meld; there is a rift between them. Soon, the Soldier pressures her to go upstairs with him and she is reluctant. But she feels she cannot refuse so she follows him into the hotel room. She becomes acutely aware of the foreboding silence, like the calm before the storm. It is like the silence just before she stole from Sears and like when she was with Barney MacKean in his garage.

Then the Soldier tries to kiss F. Jasmine. Completely taken aback and alarmed, F. Jasmine goes into self-defense mode and ends up biting his tongue as hard as she can when he tries to kiss her. Then she hits him over the head with a glass pitcher and he passes out. She wonders if he is dead.

The silence ends at this point and F. Jasmine realizes the silence was just like when she would be in the kitchen and the clock had stopped ticking. Only now she has no clock to wind. Images of Barney, of the Marlowes in her house, and of heretofore confusing remarks about sex, flash in front of her and make her think the word "crazy."

She flees the hotel and finds John Henry on the street, who says her father has been waiting for her. She says she just hit a crazy man over the head. She thinks to explain the situation to John Henry. But looking into his eyes, she sees that he will not understand. She is reminded of a drawing he made of a telephone pole technician who, in profile, still had two eyes facing outward, much like a Cubist Picasso painting. She tried to get him to explain why he had done this, but neither one could understand each other, so she just gave up.

F. Jasmine returns home and rhetorically asks her father about the potential harms of hitting people over the head. She says she will be relieved when the wedding is over and they have gone away.

Analysis

This chapter marks an important moment in F. Jasmine's development when she is finally brought face-to-face with unbridled sexuality. Though she still does not seem to comprehend the nature of what happened, she begins to put the pieces together. By linking all her past semi-encounters with sex, she develops more a big picture. She begins to see reality a bit more clearly, rather than elaborate fantasy. However, she still seems unable to accept the thought of sex, so she labels it with the word "crazy." She thinks only a crazy person would behave like the soldier did. This word is something of a defense mechanism for F. Jasmine, a way to explain away what she might otherwise consider dirty thoughts. The use of the word also explains the first sentence of the novella, which reads that, "It happened that green and crazy summer when Frankie was twelve years old." The "it" here is ambiguous and can imply the wedding itself, but more likely refers to Frankie's sexual development. If we replace the word "crazy" with "sexual," this becomes a sexual summer. Thus, by using F. Jasmine's own language to describe her world, McCullers allows us to truly see though the eyes of the character.

McCullers continues to explore the nature of time as a governing factor in life. After F. Jasmine hits the Soldier over the head, she makes a connection between sex and the passage of time. The immediate connection we can make about Frankie's attention to clocks at this point is that she is unconsciously aware of her own biological clock, so to speak. At the cusp of menstruation, she is about to enter her childbearing years. The fact that the clock has stopped implies that she is actually ignoring her own sexuality. Her inner uneasiness about not even having a clock to wind tells us that she knows she is missing something, though she does not know what. It is ironic that she should not want to jump at the chance to be sexual, considering the fact that she is so focused on growing up fast. She tries so hard to speed up time and make a rapid jump into the future. However, in order to do that, she has to both comprehend her sexuality and make constructive use of it. Which is not to say that she should be having sex at twelve, but she should be aware of her sexuality and what it means as a defining factor in life.

This chapter develops the theme of breaking down dividing lines, and hence, breaking the rules that govern life. In the previous chapter, F. Jasmine reacts to Berenice's tale of a man who had a sex change. Now, with Big Mama and Honey's theoretical abilities to change their own races, McCullers further questions what it means to be born with one identity or another. In the same way that the tomboyish Frankie can change herself into a young lady called F. Jasmine, so can a black man become Cuban. It seems all a matter of interpretation. Race, personality, gender, are all what we make of them and not solid, unalterable truths.

The sexual experience does seem to mature F. Jasmine. Because, when she sees John Henry afterward, she has something of revelation of the vast separation between the two of them. Unlike the division between the adult world and her, this division is actually good. She realizes that, due to their age discrepancy, they cannot fully comprehend how another sees the world. And she knows that he is too young to hear about the "crazy man," which clues us into the fact that she does know that this was not just craziness, rather that it was something inherently inappropriate for a child's ears. Her exposure to the experience thus separates her from childhood at last.

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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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