The Member of the Wedding
is a fiction novel published in 1946 by the American author Carson McCullers. It tells the story of a disaffected 12-year-old tomboy named Frankie who wishes to escape her life in the American South to someplace wild like Alaska. Since its publication, the book has been adapted for the stage, cinema, and television on at least a half-dozen occasions.
The book is set in the American South over the course of just a few days in 1944. Frankie Addams is the twelve-year-old daughter of a single father, who is a jeweler. Her mother died in childbirth while delivering Frankie. The book is very much told from Frankie's adolescent perspective, in the sense that she is highly emotional and stubborn, but unable to understand or properly contextualize these emotions. While like most adolescents in that she lacks a considerable amount of emotional intelligence, she possesses the precociousness and craftiness of a young adult beyond her years. Her primary guiding emotion is a kind of crippling loneliness caused by a sense of not belonging to any particular group or family.
On the last Friday of August, Frankie expresses anxiety, anticipation, and even obsession over her brother Jarvis' upcoming wedding that Sunday to a young woman named Janice Evans. The closest person to a "friend" Frankie has is her family's African-American housekeeper, Berenice. She confides in Berenice her anxiety and confusion over the upcoming marriage. Berenice dismisses Frankie's concerns as jealousy, which makes sense considering Frankie's loneliness and desire for a companion who truly understands her. Later that day, she projects those fears and anxieties onto her six-year-old cousin, John Henry, telling him he looks scared and that he should sleep over so she can keep him company. In truth, it is Frankie who needs the company. As the two lie in the same bed next to one another that night, Frankie feels a sense of comfort and connection she hasn't felt since her father told her she was too old to sleep in bed with him.
When the narration moves on to the next day, Saturday, the reader gets additional characterization involving Frankie. She takes pains to understand things going on in the world, like World War II, which is currently raging, setting aside the fact that even grown adults find the current tragic geopolitical situation increasingly incomprehensible. Frankie considers herself "worldly," or at least someone who aspires to be worldly. At the same time, she knows almost nothing about human relationships or human sexuality. For example, she gets it in her head that after Jarvis and Janice marry that Frankie will somehow "belong" to them. This is likely a reflection of her desperate need for a motherly figure in her life as well as a fatherly figure who isn't absent. In any case, she describes Jarvis and his future wife like this: "They are the we of me."
That afternoon, Frankie decides to change her name to "F. Jasmine." She thinks it sounds more sophisticated. More importantly, she desires to have a name that begins with "J-A," just like her brother Jarvis and his fiancée Janice. She walks into town and tells everyone she encounters of her plans to join the newlyweds on their adventures following the wedding. She expects that everyone who hears this is very impressed with how grown-up she sounds. Of course, she doesn't realize that anyone who sounds impressed by this is either playing along because they think it's cute, or pretending because the idea is rather uncomfortable.
Only her father, who has no pretenses, reacts honestly to Frankie, as he continues to treat her like a child. This, of course, only makes her try to act more like an adult. When he informs her that her Uncle Charles has passed away a few minutes later, she attempts to react to the news as she believes an adult would, but as a result she doesn't let herself feel any honest grief about the passing. She also overcompensates by leaving the store and following a soldier to a bar and asking him out on a "date."
Back at home, Frankie shares a surprisingly frank conversation over dinner with Berenice and John Henry in which they discuss what they would change about the world if they were God. John Henry wishes for lots of tasty food. Berenice wishes for racial harmony. Perhaps tellingly, Frankie wishes that girls could change into boys and boys into girls.
After getting her fortune told at Big Mama's that night, Frankie locates the soldier at the bar. The soldier tricks Frankie into entering his hotel room with him where he tries to rape her. Fortunately, Frankie fights him off by hitting him over the head with a pitcher.
The next day after the wedding, Jarvis and Jasmine naturally depart for their honeymoon without bringing Frankie, ruining what she believes in the moment to be her last chance at happiness. Still longing for escape, Frankie steals her father's pistol and runs away, but is apprehended by the local police after a very short time.
At the end of the novel, the author explains that Berenice leaves her job as the family housekeeper to remarry, and John Henry tragically dies of meningitis. Life goes on for Frankie who meets a friend, Mary Littlejohn.The Member of the Wedding
effectively and tragically captures the turbulent and confusing emotions of adolescence.