The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers (1946)

The member of the wedding by Carson McCullers

The Member of the Wedding (1946) was Carson McCullers’ third novel, published when she she was just twenty-eight. It followed the incredibly successful The Heart is a Loney Hunter (1940), published when McCullers was just twenty-three. 

The story centers on a lonely twelve-year-old girl, Frankie Addams, who prefers to be known as F. Jasmine. Her mother has died, and her father, a jeweler, treats her with benign neglect. The story takes place during a hot summer in a small Georgia town, finding Frankie consumed with worry that she doesn’t belong anywhere or with anyone.

For company, Frankie has her six-year-old cousin, John Henry West, and Berenice Sadie Brown, the African-American cook employed by her father. Her dull existence is shaken up when her older brother Jarvis, an army veteran, announces that he is to be married to Janice Evans.

Frankie’s daydreams become ever more vivid and emotionally charged as she imagines that she might not only be a member of the wedding, but that she will be invited to go on the honeymoon with her brother and his bride. She now wants to be called “F. Jasmine,” to share the first two letters of the names of Jarvis and Janice.

The slim novel is a portrait of the interior workings of F. Jasmine’s adolescent mind as she fixates on the wedding and contends with the insular small town that she inhabits.

The Detroit Free Press, in its 1946 concluded, “This is a marvelous study of the agony of adolescence, the fierce desire which breeds fierce denial, the inner loneliness which expresses itself perversely in violence.” 

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Carson McCullers

Learn more about Carson McCullers
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For a more contemporary perspective, in a 2012 installment of The Guardian series, Overlooked American Classics, Tom Cox wrote,

“It’s an innocent, twinkling kind of backstory to accompany what could, from a distance, seem like an innocent, twinkling kind of book. Close inspection reveals it most definitely isn’t. With its portrait of pre-teen awkwardness and self-delusion, The Member Of The Wedding has attracted youthful fans … Much of the activity is interior – either inside Frankie’s head, or in the kitchen, where she tells her family’s black cook, Berenice, of her plans to leave town with Janice and Jarvis. When something that might be construed as ‘action’ does finally occur, it’s shockingly dark: an incident involving a soldier who mistakenly believes Frankie to be much older than she is.”

Here are two reviews from the many that this book received upon its publication in the spring of 1946:

 

Growing pains

From the original review of The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers in Council Bluffs Nonpareil, March 1946Carson McCullers’ third novel, The Member of the Wedding, is the story of Frankie, a girl on the dizzy edges of becoming a young woman.

The scene is a small Georgia town. Besides Frankie, or F. Jasmine as she later becomes, or Frances as she is named grandly a few weeks later when the novel of which she is the heroine closes, there are also young John Henry West; and Berenice Sadie Brown, who speaks out of the wisdom which can only come to a woman who has had four husbands; Frankie’s father; her brother and his bride.

Frankie is almost five feet and a half tall in the “green and crazy summer” when this story takes place. Shooting up like a beanstalk, adding four inches almost overnight, she is worried.

Being 12 years and 10 months old, she is worried too, about what she has done with Barney; about the way the other girls had suddenly abandoned her to form a club of their own so that practically the only thing left in the whole world for her to be a member of is her brother’s wedding.

Though recent writers have devoted more time to the adolescent than the so-called modern parent is ever credited with doing, this is a different kind of story. A knife is thrown, a pistol stolen out of a father’s dresser, a fellow’s head bashed in.

And there’s a macabre touch; it isn’t only what happens that thrills you, but even more, what incessantly threatens to happen. A sword of Damocles, 12-year-old size, hands over this tale from start to finish.

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The member of the wedding by Carson McCullers

The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers on Amazon

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The awkwardness and violent emotions of adolescence

From the original review in The Palm Beach Post, April 7, 1946: Carson McCullers’ first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter , and her second, Reflections in a Golden Eye ,won great critical acclaim. Their appeal, or lack thereof, was similar to the question of one’s tase for ultra modern trends in art.

For this reader, at least, The Member of the Wedding seems much more readable. There is little action, the characters few and eccentric, but the author definitely evokes a mood and creates an atmosphere. Adolescence is a favored subject, and seldom has an author captured more poignancy the emotional ups and downs of a neglected child, standing at the brink of her teens, unsure of herself, fearful of unpopularity, subject to the unhappiness and despair that comes from lack of perspective by which to judge, and common sense by which to be guided.

Twelve-year-old Frankie is the main character. This is the story of one summer in her life. Her father was away all day, she was at outs with the girls her own age, excluded from their secrets and their clubs, thrown back for companionship on her curious little six-year-old cousin, John Henry, and Berenice, her family’s African-American cook.

The high point of excitement the dull, dreary summer offered was the approaching marriage of her brother, who had been with the Army in Alaska, to an unknown girl in a nearby town. Frankie’s father is taking her to the wedding, and with childish intensity she latches on to this one happening as a great climax in her life. In her imagination she identifies herself has part of the wedding party, determines that she will ask her brother to take her with them on the honeymoon, persuades herself that he will do so.

The great part of the story centers around her preparations for the wedding, her preoccupation with her daydreams, her emergence into the reality of the kitchen with Berenice and John Henry, her despair after the wedding did not turn out as she had made herself believe.

Throughout it all she passes virtually in a daze with the drama of a small Southern city, its tragedies and its daily life, leaving her virtually untouched. At the end with the formation of one tangible friendship, Frankie gains new interests, and shows some signs of reverting to normalcy.

Though the story could hardly be termed typical, Carson McCullers has managed to convey the sensitivity of an exceptional chid, with all the violence of emotion and awkwardness of this age.

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Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers

See also: The Ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers
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How The Member of the Wedding begins

It happened that green and crazy summer when Frankie was twelve years old. This was the summer when for a long time she had not been a member. She belonged to no club and was a member of nothing in the world. Frankie had become an unjoined person who hung around in doorways, and she was afraid.

In June the trees were bright dizzy green, but later the leaves darkened, and the town turned black and shrunken under the glare of the sun. At first Frankie walked around doing one thing and another. The sidewalks of the town were gray in the early morning and at night, but the noon sun put a glaze on them, so that the cement burned and glittered like glass.

The sidewalks finally became too hot for Frankie’s feet, and also she got herself in trouble. She was in so much secret trouble that she thought it was better to stay at home—and at home there was only Berenice Sadie Brown and John Henry West.

The three of them sat at the kitchen table, saying the same things over and over, so that by August the words began to rhyme with each other and sound strange. The world seemed to die each afternoon and nothing moved any longer. At last the summer was like a green sick dream, or like a silent crazy jungle under glass. And then, on the last Friday of August, all this was changed: it was so sudden that Frankie puzzled the whole blank afternoon, and still she did not understand …

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The heart is a lonely hunter by Carson McCullers

See also: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
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Quotes from The Member of the Wedding

“You have a name and one thing after another happens to you, and you behave in various ways and do things, so that soon the name begins to have a meaning. Things have accumulated around your name.” 

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“She was afraid of these things that made her suddenly wonder who she was, and what she was going to be in the world, and why she was standing at that minute, seeing a light, or listening, or staring up into the sky: alone.”

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“There are all these people here I don’t know by sight or by name. And we pass alongside each other and don’t have any connection. And they don’t know me and I don’t know them. And now I’m leaving town and there are all these people I will never know.”

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“The trouble with me is that for a long time I have just been an I person. All people belong to a We except me. Not to belong to a We makes you too lonesome.” 

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“It was better to be in a jail where you could bang the walls than in a jail you could not see.” 

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More about The Member of the Wedding

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