Cafe with Character
Carson MacCullers wrote her novella, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, in third person. In this dramatic narrative, the narrator is an observer. In the novella, character serves to accent the narrator's limited point of view. The motivations behind Miss Amelia's, Cousin Lymon's, and Marvin Macy's actions are often a mystery to the narrator.
Miss Amelia is the main character of the novella. She was a " . . . dark, tall woman with bones and muscles like a man." (p. 4) Miss Amelia had a " . . . strange and dangerous . . . ten [day] . . . marriage . . . " (pp. 4-5) to Marvin Macy, a reformed delinquent. This marriage was very out of character for Miss Amelia because she was a " . . . solitary person . . . " (p. 4). No one understood this union, not even the narrator. Miss Amelia's reasons for marrying Marvin Macy remain a mystery. The marriage was a farce because the " . . . groom was unable to bring his . . . bride to bed with him" (p. 31). The brevity of the matrimony is another oddity; what was the purpose of marrying him, and then only for ten days? The answer to this question seems to elude the narrator. The narrator obviously has only a limited knowledge of Miss Amelia's mind.
The narrator also lacks a total comprehension of Cousin Lymon and Miss Amelia's reaction to him. Miss Amelia was a loner, however she took this " . . . dirty little hunchbacked stranger . . . " (p. 12) up to her private rooms. She was acting completely out of character and the narrator does not seem to know why. Miss Amelia proceeded to look at Cousin Lymon with " . . . the lonesome look of the lover" (p. 23). She inexplicably fell in love with her odd house guest. The narrator cannot clarify this unexpected turn of events. Cousin Lymon seems to return Miss Amelia's affections to some extent; he " . . . [marched] in Miss Amelia's footsteps . . . " (p. 24). However, Cousin Lymon was quick to turn away from Miss Amelia when Marvin Macy returned to town.
Marvin Macy returned to the town a felon composed of an evil that the narrator was unable to grasp. Not only was Marvin Macy a criminal, but there was also " . . . a secret meanness . . . " (p. 52) about him that the narrator is unable to verbalize. Despite this wickedness, Cousin Lymon was happy to know Marvin Macy was coming. Mysteriously, when they first saw each other they exchanged a look that was not that of " . . . two strangers meeting for the first time . . . " (p. 47). The narrator does not understand the familiarity between them nor Cousin Lymon's obsession with Marvin Macy. Oddly enough, Marvin Macy allows Cousin Lymon to tag along with him and Miss Amelia does not " . . . chase [Marvin Macy] altogether out of the town . . . " (p. 49). The narrator cannot explain either of these occurrences. In the final battle between Marvin Macy and Miss Amelia, they were essentially fighting for Cousin Lymon. It was obvious that Cousin Lymon would support the fighter that he most loved. Cousin Lymon decided that Marvin Macy was the one with whom he wanted to be, despite Miss Amelia's kindness, protection, and, most importantly, love. Thanks to Cousin Lymon " . . . the fight was won by Marvin Macy . . . " (p. 68) and Miss Amelia was " . . . left alone in the town" (p. 69) and in the world. Marvin Macy and Cousin Lymon left the town after the fight . . . to where? Not even the narrator seems to know. The narrator of this novella does not realize the character's deepest thoughts and memories.
The narrator in Carson MacCullers' novella The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, is an observer outside of the plot. The novelette is a limited narrative, written in the third person. The characters, Miss Amelia, Cousin Lymon, and Marvin Macy serve to demonstrate the narrator's confined understanding of the meaning behind their actions.