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The Member of the Wedding

Carson McCullers

Part Three

Part Two, Chapter 3

Important Quotations Explained

Summary

The narrator changes Frankie's name again, this time to Frances. John Henry, Berenice and Mr. Addams and Frances leave the house early Sunday morning and board a bus for Winter Hill, where the wedding is held. Frances remarks to herself that they were supposed to be going north, but instead the bus seemed to be going south. The environment becomes more and more "southern" as they travel the four-hour journey. In this sense, southern is a derogatory term to mean hokey, ugly and provincial.

In the same way that she skips over all of Saturday in Part One and never directly describes Jarvis and Janice's visit, McCullers skims over the wedding in a few vague sentences, describing the event as "like a dream." The only concrete detail she gives us is that Frankie calls out for the married couple to take her with them as the wedding car drives away.

Frances wishes the death of the whole world as they make the journey home. She resents John Henry and her father for not understanding the significance of the wedding. She reflects that the wedding had been much like a series of failed bridge games she had played with John Henry and Berenice earlier in the year. No one ever drew a good hand. Then, finally, they counted the deck and realized that the queens and jacks were all missing. John Henry then admitted that taken out the jacks and subsequently the queens, to keep the jacks company. Unfortunately, Frances cannot explain the failure of the wedding so simply.

She thinks about how all the wedding guests had sill treated her as a child and were constantly putting her in her place by asking what grade she was in. Jarvis treated her as if she were just a monkey he could bounce on her knee. She had wanted so badly to explain her feeling of connection to the married couple, but she was never able to.

She tries to insist to everyone that her rabid desire to get into the getaway car was just a joke and Berenice quietly pretends to believe her and then changes the subject. She tells Frances that they should plan a dual bridge and costume party for her and invite some friends.

When they return to their hometown, the air is heavy with the threat of a coming storm. Its color has changed into a purple-gray. But the rain never falls, leaving a sense of foreboding dissonance.

Calling her predicament "an irony of fate," Frances writes a letter to her father explaining that she has run away. She tells her father not to "capture" her. She steals his pistol and takes off into the night, but not before John Henry hears her and alerts Mr. Addams. She runs towards town in an attempt to evade her father, comforted by the notion that he will have to get dressed before he chases after her.

Frances sees the train tracks and thinks about hopping a freight train. She notices that some of the freight cars sitting on the tracks are not connected to anything. She realizes that Big Mama's fortune—that she would return after the journey—was true. She contemplates suicide. A Packard drives by and for a second, Frances thinks it is her brother and new sister-in-law coming to pick her up. But it is just an unknown couple.

Frances thinks that she should go check to see if she really did kill the Soldier when she hit him over the head. Remembering that part of Big Mama's fortune was that Frances would marry a light-haired man with blue eyes, Frances thinks that perhaps she should just go marry the Soldier and then they can run away together. She has finally realized that she is too afraid to go out into the world alone and that she needs a partner.

She goes to the Blue Moon, where she is quickly picked up to the police, whom Mr. Addams had informed of Frances' disappearance. Presently, France's father comes and picks her up.

In a rapid denouement, McCullers describes the following three months. This is a time when "the changes had come," she writes. In that time, Frances turns thirteen and finally makes a friend in Mary Littlejohn. Mary is two years older than Frances and the two of them plan to travel the world together. But, in the meantime, they attend the fair, which is in town, though they avoid the house of the freaks. The Addamses decide to move into a suburban house with Aunt Pet and Uncle Ustace. Honey, high off of pot, robs a store and is sent to jail. And finally, John Henry gets meningitis, which first makes him blind, and ten days into the illness kills him. After his death, Frances remembers John Henry the way he was before the illness, and not his sickly "solemn, hovering and ghost-gray self."

They receive a letter saying that Jarvis is in Luxembourg. Frances imagines that she will pass by there when she tours the world. The novella closes when she begins to say "I am simply mad about—" but never finishes her sentence, because her pause is interrupted by "the ringing of the bell."

Analysis

The fact that Frances thinks she is headed south instead of her intended north has two main implications. The first is a play on the expression "gone south," meaning that something has gone astray. Which is exactly what happens to Frances's dreams in this chapter. Her vision of unity with Janice and Jarvis is shattered by the cold reality that she was deluding herself all along. But this must not come as a total surprise to her. She has a distinct sense of foreboding on the bus, somehow knowing that the direction in which they travel acts as a kind of storm cloud up ahead. The second implication of the southern direction is a mere geometrical analogy, as she is headed down instead of up. Her attempts to unify with the married couple turn out to be a regression into childhood whining and general hysteria. And here, all along Frances thought that being a member of the wedding signified a great advancement on her part. On the contrary, it was a type of apex of childish fantasy. But with this belief shattered, Frances is able to experience catharsis, as she does on the bus ride home. It is only after such a stark realization that the maturity that Frances has longed for can finally come to fruition.

The analogy of the bridge game holds some interesting insights into why the wedding was a failure. The bridge game failed because John Henry saw the inherent sexual connection between the jacks and the queens. So he took them out of the deck to give them their privacy, almost. Hence, the game failed because it lacked sex. This is what is wrong with Frances take on the wedding. She does not understand that sex is one of the most important aspects in the unity between a man and woman. Without this key piece of information, she is clueless to explain why a third party is not welcome. However, deep down she does know why the wedding was not a success, or she never would have made the connection to the bridge game.

John Henry's death is handled in the same brisk manner as the presence of Janis and Jarvis. We are just given a few skimming reflections on the event and left to wonder why it is not given more importance. The reason why is because John Henry's role as Frances's foil has exhausted its use. In the story, he functions as a youthful, levelheaded counterbalance to Frances's hysteria and attempts at adulthood. He is merely an object, much in the same way that Jarvis is an almost imaginary figure onto which Frances' can place her fantasies. John Henry has to disappear in the end because Frances finally begins to grow up, and experiences "the changes," whatever they may be. Berenice's last words to him before he falls gravely ill are "Run along…for I don't have the patience to fool with you." It is as if she is really speaking to Frances, saying she's not going to put up with her shenanigans any more and that she had better grow up. When he's dead, Frances remembers his ghost in a way parallel to the way she remembered the ghost of her younger self, or "the old Frankie," in Part Two.

"The changes" McCullers mentions could be any number of things: Frances's newfound friendship, her lack of interest in the freak house, and her maturity. But most fundamentally, the word "change" probably suggests that she has finally had her first period. The expression brings to mind the expression "the change of life," often used to describe women going through menopause. So the word has a certain resonance to it that suggests that Frances has finally entered her childbearing years. The bell that rings in the last sentence is like the clock that announces that her biological clock has started to tick forward.

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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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