Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Is The Ballad of the Sad Café an Embellished Fable? (Annotation G3-10/Goddard)

Aside from the obvious themes in Carson McCuller’s The Ballad of a Sad Café, the novella’s structure is solely in flashback. The introduction to the setting, and the story of what was lends itself to the anecdotes the like of Aesop. In deconstructing this novella’s structure, is it an embellished fable?
In cinema-graphic detail McCuller’s opens the story on a wide shot of the town, present day. “The town itself is dreary,” (McCullers 3),setting the scene in these first five words. The mid-shot is on the house in such a state of disrepair it would seem a tragic condition especially considering the town. Then comes the close up, with the exception of one window on the second floor all the others are boarded up. Then, as dismal as the scene is of this small Georgian Mill town is, the reader discovers, the state of affairs once were very different. The boarded house was once the café, and Miss Amelia the proprietor. In the spirit of the fable, the set-up on the opening pages are what the place has become, then comes the why of it.
As the story unfolds, the ballad, Miss Amelia develops love for a “long lost cousin” and the two of them develop the café from the former general store. As a fable, the theme may be of love gained. Almost everyone wants to be the lover.
And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being loved is intolerable to many. The beloved fears and hates the lover, and with the best of reasons, (McCullers 27).
The love between Miss Amelia and cousin Lymon described as lover and beloved is apt if nothing more than in their mere physical descriptions. Miss Amelia is 6’2” and weighing nearly 160 pounds, whereas cousin Lymon is a hunchbacked sickly dwarf of undeterminable age. In sheer physical stature, Miss Amelia appears as a mother to Lymon. As the two of these characters develop their café, they also develop a comfortable life together, each needing the other. The complication in the plot is bound to Marvin Macy, Miss Amelia’s former husband.
The foreshadowing return of Marvin Macy is prevails throughout the book. This character is obviously evil, and dangerous, which the reader expects with the building of his inevitable return. The insidious return of Marvin Macy makes the reader question the true disaster of the situation. Under the fable model here, the return is for revenge, and everyone knows it, including the characters.
Vengeance comes not in the way of murder, although it is tried on the side of Miss Amelia. Marvin Macy gets his revenge by stealing the affections of the dwarf, cousin Lymon. A feeling of the love triangle appears here, as Miss Amelia wants to maintain her love with Lymon and thwart her enemy. The ultimate ruin of their relationship is the fist fight over the dwarf where the two men overtake the more powerful Miss Amelia. After the defeat, the men physically destroy her house, which may have been her sole outward source of power. Once left alone the fable returns to the beginning.
What is in the beginning is what is in the end, “yes, the town is dreary,” (McCullers , 70). The circular way of telling the story is as a fable, nothing learned, exactly, but something to consider. Lastly, a fable will have a short lesson at the end, a brief statement about what should have been learn. McCullers has done the same thing with the curious end of “Twelve Mortal Men,” her depiction of a chain gang singing while working on the roads. As puzzling as it may seem, this little vignette pulls a lesson, “just twelve mortal men who are together,” (McCullers 72). These twelve men are together unlike Miss Amelia, leaving a fabled story of loneliness.

McCullers, Carson. The Ballard of a Sad Café. Bantam Books: New York, 1958.

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