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Carson McCullers: The Member of the Wedding

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is a great book and, critics agree, McCullers’ best but I must admit a soft spot for this book and a soft spot for the heroine, Frankie Addams, straight out of Mick Kelly in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and McCullers herself. There are just three main characters – Frankie herself, the cook/babysitter Berenice and John Henry, a young neighbor. Frankie’s mother is dead and her brother has been away on military service and is now coming back to get married. Frankie, like many other McCullers’ heroes and heroines, has felt left out and now feels that she is to be included. Apart from the wedding itself and her excursion into the town, when she tries to be grown up and is almost raped by a young soldier on leave, most of the action takes place in the kitchen of the home as she, Berenice and John Henry talk about, amongst other things, the wedding.

Like her other books, this book is not about plot but about character and McCullers gets firmly into Frankie and her overwhelming need to belong, to grow up. In doing so, she creates what may be the best portrait of an adolescent girl, making the very difficult adjustment to adulthood and, of course, making many mistakes on the way. The soldier is one mistake and, of course, so is the wedding, where she soon finds out to her horror that she is only a minor player and that her brother and new sister-in-law are not going to take her with them, as she had planned and hoped. Of course, there is the undercurrent of violence, found in all McCullers’ books. Not only is there the near-rape but Berenice’s friend goes to prison and John Henry suddenly dies of an illness. But this book is much less about violence and much more about exclusion and growing up and the trouble growing up causes all of us.

Publishing history

First published 1946 by Houghton Mifflin