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The Ballad of the Sad Café and Domestic Dilemma

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  • Pages: 7
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  • Category: Novel

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            Give brief background about the author and will discuss the objective of the paper.


            This part of the paper will discuss the analysis made for the two novels: “The ballad of the sad café” and “A domestic dilemma”. The novels will be compared in terms of their themes and the characters.


After comparing or contrasting the two novels, a sound conclusion will be provided.

Contrast and Comparison:


            Carson McCullers is a very well known American novelist, dramatis, essayist, short story writer and poet. The two recognized work of art of McCullers are “The Ballad of the Sad Café and the “Domestic Dilemma”. The goal of this paper is to compare or contrast the two novels.


            McCullers’, “The Ballad of the Sad Café is universally recognized as one of her best works of fiction and also noted to be the most successful exploration of her signature themes which constitute to loneliness and the implications of unrequited love. Much has been said about this fictional novel of McCullers, some have pointed out that the story reflects the author’s fascination with misfits, freaks and grotesques. In the story, the characters built by the author can be considered individuals with strong personalities, from Miss Amelia to Marvin Macy and even for Lymon. Each of the character in this novel best embodied the isolation and loneliness which she regarded as the common condition of human existence. In this novel it can be said that the central concern of “The Ballad of the Sad Café” is loneliness which involves the failure of communication, the anguish of unrequited love and the psychological context which causes individuals who are worshiped to despise the worshiper as well as the transformative and redemptive effects that even transitory and ultimately failed love can have on an individual and his or her society.

            In addition, this novel can also be said to be particularly interested in the notion of shared isolation, which is seen among the three main characters and the isolation between the three and their community. This novel can also be described the intense emotional content of apparently undramatic situations. The melancholy scene suggested by the title of the novel is said to be suitable for the whole scenario of the story. Like many folk ballad, “the Ballad of the Sad Café also tells a mournful tale which is associated with sardonic humor. It celebrates the love of a cross-eyed, mannish woman (Miss Amelia) for a conceited, arrogant hunchbacked man. In addition, this story also involves a curious love affair for the three characters.

In The Ballad of the Sad Café, the related themes of spiritual isolation and the nature and function of love received their fullest and most mature treatment. It is the saddest of McCullers’s novels at the same time that it is the most nearly perfect, with something of the formal beauty of a Bach fugue, for in it she reaches the profoundly pessimistic conclusion that the state of being beloved is intolerable to many. And that the beloved fears and hates the lover. Her protagonist here is a lonely manlike giantess, Amelia Evans, who falls in love with a dwarf who is also homosexual, hunchbacked, and tubercular, thus illustrating yet another thesis of the author, that the most outlandish people can be the stimulus for love (Bloom, 111). The value and quality of any love is determined solely by the lover. Instead of returning her love, however, the dwarf maliciously solicits the attentions of Amelia’s former husband, an ex-convict, and the two revenge themselves upon her by running off together—but not before they have wrecked her place of business, stolen her belongings, and attempted to poison her.

There is a terrible finality about the vision of life set forth in The Ballad of the Sad Café, and one wondered if the author had not said all she had to say on the theme of human love and loneliness.

            On one hand, if in McCullers’ “The Ballad of the Sea” the author focus on the loneliness and unrequited love, the theme of “A Domestic Dilemma” can be considered as somewhat close to that of the first novel.   In this novel, the author made a strong argument on the irrational persistence of love and its inability to solve the everyday dilemma of existence are also obvious in this novel. The story is being told from the perspective of a patient, kind man with an alcoholic and irresponsible wife. This man has a curious blend of anger, compassion and love towards his wife. The story is a battle of the father and children for having a responsible and loving wife and mother. One interpretation associated with these novel points to the stresses of an urban lifestyle of a married woman which is reared in an emotionally supportive small southern town. Like in “The Ballad of the Sad Café”, the character of the woman in “A Domestic Dilemma” is also isolated from the community. Herein, isolation and loneliness is seen to cause the woman to be alcoholic (McCullers, 1).

            It can be said that in both stories, isolation and loneliness are the common theme of the stories. Accordingly, isolation is noted to be a metaphysical affliction more than a cultural one. The social isolation of Emily is analogous to the physical deformity of Miss Amelia. In both stories, it can be said that act of love is being given attention and not the comfort of being loved which has the ability to transform the lover, like in the case of Miss Amelia when she fell in loved with Lymon or the case of Marvin Macy when he fall with Miss Amelia. In McCullers’, A Domestic Dilemma the husband is searching for a solution which will keep all his love ones safe. Herein, the man must make a final decision on choosing between his love for his children and his life.

In this story McCullers attains greater depth in characterizing the individual caught between love and hate for a drunken spouse than in the other two tales, partly because Martin’s characterization does not depend on a late-night harangue between two tired people, confused by alcohol. He arrives home from work, anxious about his children’s safety, as he has been every day since Emily the year before dropped their baby on her head because she was too drunk to hold her. Martin’s interaction is primarily with the children as he bathes and feeds them while his wife sleeps; the ambivalence of his feelings toward Emily gradually appears to the reader, though it is not evident to him until the final moment of the story. As he bathes the children, he feels anger toward Emily for her inability to care for them and protect them, but as he feels tenderness for them when he bathes their bodies and when he watches them sleep, he finds waves of affection for Emily sweeping over him. When he is finally alone, fatigue, despair, and loathing for his wife overwhelm him. But again, as he prepares for bed, he looks at Emily, as he had gazed at the children in their sleep, and he is inexplicably drawn to her.

The themes with which McCullers was mainly concerned in the two novels the first decade of her career are the spiritual isolation of the individual and the power of love to free human from this condition. Ordinary verbal communication results in failure; it is only through ideal communication or love, that men can hope to escape from their cells.

Here, as in The Ballad of the Sad Café, the beloved “fears and hates” the lover and just as Mrs. McCullers in her other novels was careful to select characters between whom any physical union was out of the question (like the manlike Amelia and the homosexual dwarf), she has here been at pains to depict another impossible situation.  There is also in this novel the same peculiar mixture of love and pity that characterized the relationship of Martin Meadows and Emily in the short story “A Domestic Dilemma”; and of Amelia and the dwarf in The Ballad of the Sad Café.

The novels have also some dissimilarity. For example, in “the ballad of the sad café”, the authors reflects how Amelia has changed in to a better person because of the love she felt with Lymon, but in the “A Domestic Violence”, the author reflects how Martin has changes his feelings for the sake of his children. The characters have different motivations and that their existence is associated with different societal problems.


            Through the analysis made with the two novels, it can be said that both stories depicts isolation, loneliness and love. Isolation which is caused by the sense of being different from other people in the community, which is seen in the character of Miss Amelia, Lymon and Macy for “The Ballad of the Sad Café” and the character of Emily in “A Domestic Dilemma”.  All of McCullers’s characters share a particular quirk in the exercise of their capacity to love, and eventually expire, by falling in love with a hopeless hope. Both stories have tackled how a person fight for the inner conflict of feeling different in a society and how these individuals try to adjust in the community without feeling discriminated. In addition, the story shows how people tend to seek love from a person who could not provide equal love in return.


Bloom, H. Carson McCullers, New York: Chelsea House, 1986.

McCullers, C. Collected Stories of Carson McCullers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987.

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