The Ballad of the Sad Café Characters

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The Ballad of the Sad Caf Summary & Study Guide Description

The Ballad of the Sad Caf Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on The Ballad of the Sad Caf by Carson McCullers.

Miss Amelia, appears in The Ballad of the Sad Cafe

Miss Amelia, in the past, is the proprietor of a small cafe in the center of a sleepy Southern town. She is rugged and built like a man, slightly cross-eyed, and inept socially. She is rich, partially from her father's holdings and partially from her own business savvy. She is quarrelsome, given to arguing over prices and taking people to court if she feels she has been wronged in the slightest. Her spinster ways change when Cousin Lymon comes to town. She comes to love the hunchback, and in time defers to him. As Lymon likes company, the two join forces to open a cafe in Amelia's home where all the townspeople can share meals, alcohol, and gossip.

Amelia begins to creep out of her shell after years of operating the cafe, eventually even administering the sick as a would-be country doctor. However, her violent ex-husband, Marvin Macy, comes back into her life, and as fortune would have it, Lymon becomes infatuated with the man in something akin to Amelia's own love for Lymon.

Amelia again changes behavior with this new dynamic, losing much of her trademark toughness and straightforwardness as she eventually concedes to having her hated ex-husband live in her own home. Amelia comes to blows with Marvin, and at the crescendo of the match, Amelia's beloved Lymon betrays her by attacking her and letting Marvin win the fight. Marvin and Lymon leave town, but not before wrecking Amelia's cafe. Similarly, the betrayal left Amelia a wrecked person. The strength leaves her body and voice, her hair grows gray, and she retreats into her old, bitter hermit ways. By the time we visit her in the present, she is a spirit-broken spinster who hardly dares to peek out the window.

Cousin Lymon, appears in The Ballad of the Sad Cafe

Cousin Lymon is a hunchback who arrives mysteriously to town one day, searching for Amelia, who he claims he is distantly related to. Lymon is an outcast in the McCuller mode, and here his physical deformity telegraphs his misfit nature. Amelia invites Lymon into her home and comes to love Lymon. Unfortunately for Amelia, Lymon does not return such love, resulting in an unequal relationship in which Lymon takes advantage of Amelia.

Lymon is said to possess an ability to establish a deep connection with anyone he meets in a short amount of time. A group of townspeople are ready to kill Lymon for being a freak, but instead he uses this "charm" to ingratiate himself, and soon he is the center of attention in town, a very sociable chap who talks at length on any subject.

The townspeople try to guess Lymon's age, and (perhaps due to his hunchback condition) no one can tell if Lymon is 15 or 75 or anything in between, and Lymon prefers to keep it that way. Lymon loves spectacles like cockfights and movies, and Amelia frequently takes him in her ancient Ford car to another town for such spectacles.

Eventually Lymon becomes infatuated with Marvin Macy, Amelia's ex-con ex-husband. Like much of the behavior in McCullers' stories, the reason behind this infatuation is pretty bare, but Lymon mentions being envious at Marvin having seen the inside or prison and the city of Atlanta. It is this strange infatuation that compels Lymon to attack Amelia in her fight with Marvin, ruining the match. He runs off with Marvin, wrecking Amelia's cafe and heart.

Marvin Macy, appears in The Ballad of the Sad Cafe

Marvin Macy is Amelia's ex-husband (for ten days), who after the marriage robbed three filling stations and supposedly killed a man, crimes for which he spent time in the Atlanta penitentiary. His return to the town after many years is an ill omen, and it results in Lymon's betrayal of Amelia, the ruin and closure of Amelia's cafe, and Amelia's own broken heart. He is an evil man without any redeeming characteristics, and he uses Lymon's attraction to him as a weapon against Amelia.

Frances, appears in Wunderkind

Frances is a 15-year-old piano prodigy who realizes she may not have the talent necessary to go on to become a master piano player. This uncertainty and dread manifests itself in a panic attack, and she abandons her lesson with longtime piano teacher Mister Bilderbach.

Bitsy Barlow, appears in The Jockey

Bitsy Barlow is the titular character who confronts his superiors (the investor, the trainer, and the bookie) about their moral bankruptcy and exploitation of jockeys. As a jockey, he is forced to starve himself to keep a certain weight, while his superiors are free to gulp down one luxurious dish after another.

Mr. Brook, appears in Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland

Mr. Brook is the head of the music department at Ryder College, and has won much acclaim for landing Madame Zilensky as a new faculty member. He realizes Zilensky is mentally unbalanced and a pathological liar. He confronts her, but relents out of pity and lets her remain delusional.

Madame Zilensky, appears in Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland

Madame Zilensky is a master composer and music teacher new to Ryder College. She has crafted a rich and detailed imaginary world for herself, in which she has tea with monarchs and other multinational adventures. Mr. Brook confronts her about her pathological lying, but in the end she is left to remain in her fantasy world.

John Ferris, appears in The Sojourner

John Ferris is a divorced man, born in Georgia but living in Paris, who returns to the States to attend his father's funeral. While in New York he visits his ex-wife Elizabeth, sees what a rich and lovely family life she has, and vows to live better and more fully, especially in regards to his would-be stepson back in Paris.

Martin Meadows, appears in A Domestic Dilemma

Martin Meadows is an office professional dealing with an alcoholic wife. He loves his two children dearly, and is furious when his drunk wife Emily spoils the children's dinner with her carelessness and makes a scene in front of the children. However, he is torn between love for his children and a desire to protect them, and love for his wife.

The Old Man, appears in A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud

The old man is a cafe dweller who tells a young paper boy that he loves him. The frightened young boy is then told a tale of the old man's failed marriage and theory of love. According to the old man, love must begin with the simplest of objects - a tree, a rock, a cloud - and only after a man has mastered loving those can be work up the ladder toward the ultimate goal, a woman.

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