The Member of the Wedding

Critical interpretations

The Member of the Wedding is told from the point of view of Frankie, who is a troubled adolescent. But some critics think it is a mistake to view The Member of the Wedding as simply a coming of age novel—a "sweet momentary illumination of adolescence before the disillusion of adulthood,"[5] as it is sometimes regarded, or as Patricia Yaeger puts it, "an economical way of learning about the pangs of growing up."[6]

For Yaeger and the Scots novelist critic Ali Smith, this is to sentimentalize the work. They suggest that such a reading misses much of its profundity, darkness, and what Smith calls its "political heft."[7] It should be seen, according to Smith, as a "very funny, very dark novel" and a "combination of hope, hopelessness and callousness." Its theme, says Smith, is "why people exclude others and what happens when they do."

Other critics, including McKay Jenkins,[8] have highlighted the importance of themes of racial and sexual identity. Frankie wishes people could "change back and forth from boys to girls". John Henry wants them to be "half boy and half girl". Berenice would like there to be "no separate colored people in the world, but all human beings would be light brown color with blue eyes and black hair." For them, Jenkins suggests, the ideal world would be "a place where identity…is fluid, changeable, amorphous."

Another critic, Margaret B. McDowell, has also stressed the role of Berenice Sadie Brown (and to a lesser extent John Henry West) in counter-pointing Frankie’s story.[2]

Jack Halberstam, in his book Female Masculinity, uses the character of Frankie to illustrate the pressures on girls to "outgrow" their tomboyishness, arguing that masculinity is tolerated in girls only as long as they ultimately conform to gender expectations in adulthood. In the example of Frankie, he argues, we can see that "the image of the tomboy can be tolerated only within a narrative of blossoming womanhood; within such a narrative, tomboyism represents a resistance to adulthood itself rather than to adult femininity."[9]

Critics such as Elizabeth Freeman[10] and Nicole Seymour view the novel as "queer"—as challenging gender and sexual norms. In her article on the novel, Seymour argues that McCullers queers the human developmental schema (childhood-adolescence-adulthood) through various narrative methods. These methods include the novel's tripartite structure; its depiction of personal difficulties with narrativizing, "the refusal of dynamism, and the use of the literary devices of repetition and analepsis." Seymour concludes that "the novel allows us to imagine an adolescent body in synchronic rather than diachronic terms - thereby challenging the ideals of sexuality, gender, and race that normally accrue to such bodies."[11]

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