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The ballad of the sad cafe



The Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers is a story of

love illustrated through the romantic longings and attractions of

the three eccentric characters; Miss Amelia, Cousin Lymon, and

Marvin Macy. McCullers depicts love as a force, often strong

enough to change people's attitudes and behaviors. Yet, the author

seems to say, if the love is unrequited, individuals, having lost

their motivation to change, will revert back to their true selves.

The allure of the different characters, which is never revealed by

the author, seems to indicate that feelings of love and attraction

are not necessarily reasonable or understandable to others.

Miss Amelia is self-reliant, outspoken and very much a loner.

She stands six foot one inch tall and has a strong, masculine

build. Her grey eyes are crossed, and the rest of her features are

equally unattractive. Yet, the people of the small, southern town

of Cheehaw accept her quirkiness because of the equisite wine that

she sells in her store and for her free doctoring and homemade

remedies. Still, everyone is shocked when the handsome outlaw,

Marvin Macy, falls in love with her.

Marvin is a "bold, fearless, and cruel" man who changes his

unlawful ways to win Miss Amelia's love. Rather than robbing

houses he begins attending church services on Sunday mornings. In

an effort to court Miss Amelia, he learns proper etiquette, such as

"rising and giving his chair to a lady, and abstaining from

swearing and fighting". Two years after Marvin's reformation, he

asks Miss Amelia to marry him. Miss Amelia does not love him but

agrees to the marriage in order to satisfy her great-aunt. Once

married, Miss Amelia is very aloof towards her husband and refuses

to engage in marital relations with him. After ten days, Miss

Amelia ends the marriage because she finds that she is unable to

generate any positive feelings for Marvin. Several months after

the divorce, Marvin reverts back to his initial corrupt ways and is

"sent to a state penitentiary for robbing filling stations and

holding up A & P stores".

Just as love had changed Marvin, so too did it change Miss

Amelia. In the mid 1930's, several years after Miss Amelia's

divorce, Lymon, a hunchback, comes to Miss Amelia claiming to be a

distant cousin. She readily provides Cousin Lymon with food and

board, and eventually any material object that he desires. The

people of the town grow very curious of her new guest and of Miss

Amelia's hospitality towards Lymon which is contrary to her

characteristic untrusting and remote ways. The townspeople gather

in her store one evening to meet Cousin Lymon. Unlike Miss Amelia,

Cousin Lymon is very sociable and enjoys entertaining the townsfolk

with his patently tall tales. In a short period of time, Miss

Amelia's store is converted into a cafe where people gather for

food, drink, and gossip. They would discuss Miss Amelia's love for

Cousin Lymon, indicating that they thought love between cousins is

forbidden and incestuous.

Her changed behavior, in Lymon's presence, preoccupied and

baffled them. Ever since Cousin Lymon's appearance, Miss Amelia

would regularly wear a red dress that had been worn exclusively on

Sundays. They also noted that, before he arrived, she would only

leave her house to go to church or to pick up supplies for her

store. While, when Cousin Lymon moves in, realizing that he loves

to travel, she would often drive with him into the city and go to

see "movie-flicks" with him.

Before the story ends, Marvin Macy is released from prison and

returns to Cheehaw. Cousin Lymon, unaware of Miss Amelia's short-

lived marriage to the criminal is fascinated by Marvin's

adventurous life. He leaves Miss Amelia, never having returned her

love, to travel with Marvin. Broken-hearted, Miss Amelia returns

to her original reclusive style of living.

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe enjoyably and precisely portrays

the irrational nature of love in the ill-fated love triangle of

Miss Amelia, Cousin Lymon, and Marvin Macy. None of the three

characters are portrayed as particularly appealing people, yet they

were loved. People love for very different reasons, " A most

mediocre person can be the object of a love which is wild,

extravagant, and beautiful as the poison lillies of the swamp."

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe

Story by: Carson McCullers

Copyright date: 1951

Source: Essay UK -

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