Carson McCullers | Critical Review by Joseph Frank

This literature criticism consists of approximately 14 pages of analysis & critique of Carson McCullers.
This section contains 596 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Essay by Virginia Spencer Carr

Critical Review by Joseph Frank

SOURCE: "Fiction Chronicle," in The Sewanee Review, Vol. LIV, No. 3, July-September, 1946, pp. 534-39.

In the following brief review, Frank discusses the plot and characters of The Member of the Wedding, noting McCullers' potential as an important developing writer.

Politics is left completely behind when we enter the enchanted—or shall we say, rather, topsy-turvy world of F. Jasmine Addams, the twelve-year-old adolescent of Carson McCullers' The Member of the Wedding. Nominally, the book centers around the emotional turmoil and confusion of an adolescent girl in the twilight period when the anarchy of tom-boy childhood has ceased, but the somewhat more decorous life of girlhood has not yet begun. Frankie Addams, caught in this period, is not a "member" of anything; and so she decides that, at her brother's wedding, she will become a "member" of the bridal party and travel away with them. But the wedding itself takes up only a few brief pages at the close of the book. Most of it is occupied by Frankie, dreaming her fantastic daydreams, talking and playing cards with her six-year old cousin, John Henry West, and with the Negro maid, Berenice Sadie Brown. At the conclusion of the book, after Frankie has been forcibly detained from leaving with the bride and groom, she forgets all about this incident and, with a new girl friend, adores Michelangelo and reads Tennyson. The twilight period has passed and she is now a "member."

Most critics, considering the book merely as the study of an adolescent girl, have found it interesting and well-done but not particularly new—adolescents, it seems, have become a drug on the fiction market. In general, this judgment is correct if one limits oneself to the book's main theme; but the really important part of the book is a quality of sensibility which, as a matter of fact, the main theme is too weak to support. Miss McCullers is fascinated by the revolting and the perverse to an almost morbid extent; in searching for detail, she invariably picks out something like this (she is describing Frankie's impressions of a carnival): "The Wild Nigger came from a savage island. He squatted in his booth among the dusty bones and palm leaves and ate raw living rats…. The Wild Nigger knocked the rat's head over his squatted knee and ripped off the fur and crunched and gobbled and flashed his greedy Wild Nigger eyes." John Henry West, with "a little screwed white face" and "tiny gold-rimmed glasses," who covered the wall of the kitchen with drawings that make it look like a "crazy house," is a little monster; and Frankie herself, slinging butcher knives around when she gets mad, and calmly cutting the sole of her foot open to take out a nail, is not exactly one's idea of an average American girl, even an adolescent. This quality of sensibility in Miss McCullers, in the context of the present book, adds up to very little because it remains unfocused and purposeless. What it might add up to in the future, however, may possibly be seen in the character of the Negro maid, Berenice Sadie Brown, where the grotesque becomes almost sublime by being endowed with a human warmth absent in the other people, who seem to be sleep-walking rather than living. For all her absurdity, Berenice is a profoundly impressive character. If Miss McCullers can continue to create similar ones and, like Dostoyevsky, place them in a situation where their very grotesqueness takes on symbolic value, American literature may find itself with a really important writer on its hands.

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This section contains 596 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Essay by Virginia Spencer Carr
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