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In what way is The Member of the Wedding a bildungsroman or coming-of-age story? What clues does McCullers give to signify that the course of Frankie's maturity into adulthood is the foundation of the story, the main conflict?
Frankie believes that her life at this point is divided into three distinct parts: past, present and future. Her belief is one of the deliberate flags McCullers uses in the text to alert us to the genre of her story. The purpose of a coming-of-age plot is to focus in on a very specific, isolated moment in an adolescent's life and to show how that time changed the character forever. The story should also show how, as a result of the loss of innocence, the character matures and becomes more of an adult. All of this happens for Frankie in this isolated moment that is distinctly separated from the past and the future. First, she learns about sex. Her realization about this has been slow as of yet, but when she encounters the soldier, it all comes into much more clear vision. Secondly, her childhood fantasy of joining with Jarvis and Janice is shattered. She is left to face the colder reality of adulthood, forced to accept the future for what it really is, not for what she can elaborately and foolishly imagine it to be. We might also take a look into the significance of John Henry's character as a contrast, or foil, for Frankie, and analyze the way that his death is a metaphor for the end of Frankie's childhood. After all, Frankie speaks of his ghost in the same way that she talks about the ghost of the "old Frankie" in Part Two.
What does this book say about racism and the state of black/white relations in the 1940s American south? Discuss the way that The Member of the Wedding serves as a kind of protest for the way races are divided.
An important part to look at for this question is the discussion Berenice and Frankie have about being "loose" or "caught" in the world. Berenice says that we are caught in the sense that we are born black or white and cannot change that. Being a black woman, she knows that her color further traps her because of discrimination. Frankie sees how at the same time we are loose in our entrapment because of our inability to connect or meld with other people. This moment serves as a powerful statement against the separation of the races and makes a pledge for unity. Further, we need to look at the role Berenice serves in the story. She is a voice of reason, the wise antidote to Frankie's antics. Consider that at the time this book was written, there was great prejudice against blacks, particularly in the south. An intelligent sage of a character would be exceptional if she were black, thus McCullers works to challenge stereotypes. After all, one of her great strengths as a writer is to reach great understanding about the inner complexities of her characters. So it would make perfect sense that she would be particularly empathetic when trying to take a very real take on a character who might otherwise be told in simple stereotypes.
How close is McCullers's narration to truly getting inside Frankie's head? Is she objective in her description of Frankie's thoughts and motivations, or does she editorialize them? Look into the way that she does or does not allow the reader to make his or her own inferences about Frankie's character.
Writing from the perspective of an innocent child is difficult, particularly when the audience of the book is to be adults, or at least more experienced young adults. Thus, it becomes necessary to describe child-like motivations with the added insight that comes from adulthood. McCullers accomplishes this by describing Frankie's naïve interpretations of what goes on around her and then allowing us to see that Frankie is very young and inexperienced. For instance, when Frankie thinks that Mrs. Marlowe is having a fit, not realizing that she was actually having sex with her husband, McCullers simply tells us that this is what Frankie thought, without editorializing about it. However, she gives us enough clues to realize for ourselves what was really going on with the Marlowes. McCullers gives herself a sort of passive role as the authoritative critic of Frankie's behavior, allowing us to make our own interpretations.
In contrast to the kind of patronizing stance McCullers takes in respect to Frankie's behavior and naivete, she does have a certain respect for her childhood fantasies. When McCullers changes Frankie's name to F. Jasmine and then to Frances, she does so without any fanfare or explanation. She simply follows Frankie's lead and pays respect to her wish for an identity change. And she allows Frankie to explain for herself the reason for the change.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Member of the Wedding!