Love

Techniques and Meaning in The Ballad of the Sad Cafe

By Andrew Nicol, Student

The relationship between techniques used by McCullers and the allegorical meaning – fate and love.

An essay hosted at LiteratureClassics.com

The ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers tells a simple story which has a significant metaphorical meaning attached. The text aims to provoke readers’ thoughts about the nature of life and love. The story follows the life of Amelia Evans and her strange experiences of love with the evil and grotesque Cousin Lymon and the diabolical Marvin Macy. McCullers makes it clear from the onset that the text should be interpreted allegorically and the meaning behind the story should form the basis of any analysis. One of the philosophies that McCullers attempts to pass on through the text concerns the parasitic nature of any love relationship. The author develops this agenda by drawing the nature of fate and superstition into the story, and stresses its importance through the use of several narrative techniques – some well-established; others quite unique. Considering these two aspects of the story, the conclusion is the belief that fate predetermines the outcome of any love.

The nature of the story in The Ballad of the Sad Café can be readily determined. Even the title – suggesting clearly that the story parallels a ballad – has significance. A ballad is traditionally a tragic, simple poem that is allegorical in nature. The allegorical nature is reinforced by the alienation of the town from outside influences by stating that the town is ‘… like a place that is far off and estranged from all other places in the world.’ The names of the distant towns – ‘Society City’, for example – also stand as witness to the physical and social distance between the town and the rest of the world. Carson McCullers is declaring that the story is just that – a story – and that it is allegorical and contains a strong message. This message is constantly reiterated by McCullers when she interrupts the text to pass philosophical ideas. She does so first when stressing the importance of the liquor drunk on Amelia’s first night with the Hunchback, suggesting that the alcohol was the fabric that bound Amelia and Lymon. The next intrusion, however, is most significant. McCullers enforces on the readers her philosophy about the nature of love. There are two people in every relationship – the lover, and the beloved. The pessimistic approach to the philosophy makes it clear that the relationship between Miss Amelia and Cousin Lymon, which the author is using as an example for this and other philosophies, will end in tragedy. Little room is left for self-determination – there is no question that this relationship, like all others, has been predetermined by fate.

The Ballad of the Sad Café is filled with superstitious and serendipitous occurrences. These elements of fatalism are evident throughout the story. Symbolic landscape and weather conditions are used extensively in the text. Not only do they represent the attitudes of the characters, but they declare the influence of some greater, predetermined scheme. The sudden snowfall used near the climax of the story shows that something is amiss. It makes us realize that a supernatural force is at work – the relationships in the town are being controlled by something beyond the townspeople’s reach.

"People woke up on the second of January and found the whole world about them had altogether changed… old people harked back and could remember nothing in these parts to equal the phenomenon. For in the night it had snowed."

On the day when the fight between Miss Amelia and Marvin Macy took place, a series of symbolic events and conditions are used to highlight the natural, predetermined path that the story is taking. Firstly, it is Ground Hog Day. Not only does this day automatically exude superstition, but on the same day a year prior to the fight, Miss Amelia sealed her fate by choosing to slaughter the pig. Before the fight, a hawk with a bloody breast circled around the café twice, symbolizing war; and the battle itself took place at seven o’clock – a number with important religious significance. In another allegorical story, the story of creation, the world was created in seven days. Fate has brought entwined itself into the love between Miss Amelia and Cousin Lymon and has predetermined the outcome of their relationship. Even the actions of the first patrons of the café were determined solely by destiny:

"… as though their instincts had merged together… At such a time no individual hesitates. And whether the joint action will result in ransacking, violence, and crime, depends on destiny."

The Ballad of the Sad Café is, in many respects, similar to expressionistic drama – the readers are emotionally distanced from events in the story. The use of the frame in revealing the ending of the story places emphasis on the progress of events as opposed to the overall outcome, a characteristic of expressionism. Carson McCullers combines these elements with grotesque characters. The three main characters in The Ballad of the Sad Café are all, in some way, spiritually, intellectually, morally or physically deformed. Making the characters monstrous distances us further from most happenings in the story – we cannot hope to understand or relate to such strange beings. At the same time, we feel empathy towards their pathetic conditions. This makes grotesque characters entirely suitable to The Ballad of the Sad Café: we do not try to understand their actions but we still feel emotionally attached to the inner feelings of the character. It makes McCullers’ philosophy seem universal – the lover and beloved theory applies even to the strangest of people in the strangest of locations. Furthermore, the grotesque characters parallel animals – all animals follow universal instincts and, like McCullers’ love, are parasitic.

It is clear that Carson McCullers’ motivation in writing The Ballad of the Sad Café was to impart theories about love and life on the readers of the text. Employing a series of narrative techniques, she managed to build meaningful theories around the topic of love. As a severely impaired person who had suffered at the hand of love, McCullers’ personal experience unquestionably had an impact on the content of her writing. Nevertheless, she was entirely aware of the power of literature to enhance the messages she wanted to get across. Using such techniques to their full potential, The Ballad of the Sad Café is a prime example of the power of the written word to focus attention on new ideas and theories.

Techniques and Meaning in The Ballad of the Sad Cafe

By Andrew Nicol, Student

The relationship between techniques used by McCullers and the allegorical meaning – fate and love.

An essay hosted at LiteratureClassics.com

The ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers tells a simple story which has a significant metaphorical meaning attached. The text aims to provoke readers’ thoughts about the nature of life and love. The story follows the life of Amelia Evans and her strange experiences of love with the evil and grotesque Cousin Lymon and the diabolical Marvin Macy. McCullers makes it clear from the onset that the text should be interpreted allegorically and the meaning behind the story should form the basis of any analysis. One of the philosophies that McCullers attempts to pass on through the text concerns the parasitic nature of any love relationship. The author develops this agenda by drawing the nature of fate and superstition into the story, and stresses its importance through the use of several narrative techniques – some well-established; others quite unique. Considering these two aspects of the story, the conclusion is the belief that fate predetermines the outcome of any love.

The nature of the story in The Ballad of the Sad Café can be readily determined. Even the title – suggesting clearly that the story parallels a ballad – has significance. A ballad is traditionally a tragic, simple poem that is allegorical in nature. The allegorical nature is reinforced by the alienation of the town from outside influences by stating that the town is ‘… like a place that is far off and estranged from all other places in the world.’ The names of the distant towns – ‘Society City’, for example – also stand as witness to the physical and social distance between the town and the rest of the world. Carson McCullers is declaring that the story is just that – a story – and that it is allegorical and contains a strong message. This message is constantly reiterated by McCullers when she interrupts the text to pass philosophical ideas. She does so first when stressing the importance of the liquor drunk on Amelia’s first night with the Hunchback, suggesting that the alcohol was the fabric that bound Amelia and Lymon. The next intrusion, however, is most significant. McCullers enforces on the readers her philosophy about the nature of love. There are two people in every relationship – the lover, and the beloved. The pessimistic approach to the philosophy makes it clear that the relationship between Miss Amelia and Cousin Lymon, which the author is using as an example for this and other philosophies, will end in tragedy. Little room is left for self-determination – there is no question that this relationship, like all others, has been predetermined by fate.

The Ballad of the Sad Café is filled with superstitious and serendipitous occurrences. These elements of fatalism are evident throughout the story. Symbolic landscape and weather conditions are used extensively in the text. Not only do they represent the attitudes of the characters, but they declare the influence of some greater, predetermined scheme. The sudden snowfall used near the climax of the story shows that something is amiss. It makes us realize that a supernatural force is at work – the relationships in the town are being controlled by something beyond the townspeople’s reach.

"People woke up on the second of January and found the whole world about them had altogether changed… old people harked back and could remember nothing in these parts to equal the phenomenon. For in the night it had snowed."

On the day when the fight between Miss Amelia and Marvin Macy took place, a series of symbolic events and conditions are used to highlight the natural, predetermined path that the story is taking. Firstly, it is Ground Hog Day. Not only does this day automatically exude superstition, but on the same day a year prior to the fight, Miss Amelia sealed her fate by choosing to slaughter the pig. Before the fight, a hawk with a bloody breast circled around the café twice, symbolizing war; and the battle itself took place at seven o’clock – a number with important religious significance. In another allegorical story, the story of creation, the world was created in seven days. Fate has brought entwined itself into the love between Miss Amelia and Cousin Lymon and has predetermined the outcome of their relationship. Even the actions of the first patrons of the café were determined solely by destiny:

"… as though their instincts had merged together… At such a time no individual hesitates. And whether the joint action will result in ransacking, violence, and crime, depends on destiny."

The Ballad of the Sad Café is, in many respects, similar to expressionistic drama – the readers are emotionally distanced from events in the story. The use of the frame in revealing the ending of the story places emphasis on the progress of events as opposed to the overall outcome, a characteristic of expressionism. Carson McCullers combines these elements with grotesque characters. The three main characters in The Ballad of the Sad Café are all, in some way, spiritually, intellectually, morally or physically deformed. Making the characters monstrous distances us further from most happenings in the story – we cannot hope to understand or relate to such strange beings. At the same time, we feel empathy towards their pathetic conditions. This makes grotesque characters entirely suitable to The Ballad of the Sad Café: we do not try to understand their actions but we still feel emotionally attached to the inner feelings of the character. It makes McCullers’ philosophy seem universal – the lover and beloved theory applies even to the strangest of people in the strangest of locations. Furthermore, the grotesque characters parallel animals – all animals follow universal instincts and, like McCullers’ love, are parasitic.

It is clear that Carson McCullers’ motivation in writing The Ballad of the Sad Café was to impart theories about love and life on the readers of the text. Employing a series of narrative techniques, she managed to build meaningful theories around the topic of love. As a severely impaired person who had suffered at the hand of love, McCullers’ personal experience unquestionably had an impact on the content of her writing. Nevertheless, she was entirely aware of the power of literature to enhance the messages she wanted to get across. Using such techniques to their full potential, The Ballad of the Sad Café is a prime example of the power of the written word to focus attention on new ideas and theories.

As a play:

The Ballad Of the Sad Café

1964

FPRIVATE "TYPE=PICT;ALT=[The Ballad Of the Sad Cafe]"

1964

Play Of The Year
Edward Albee
Lewis Allen
Ben Edwards

Leading Actress – Play
Colleen Dewhurst

Featured Actor – Play
Michael Dunn

Director – Play
Alan Schneider

Producer – Play
Lewis Allen
Ben Edwards

Scenic Design
Ben Edwards


© Chrystfferssen Maakorey, Gaiboy Entertainment and Fennec Productions

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