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In a small Georgia town, twelve year old tomboy Frankie Addams feels unconnected to the world, a fact troubling to her. Her unconventional views for a twelve year old girl make her an outcast among her peers, which she in turn blames for her situation rather than anything of her own doing. Her only real friend is John Henry, her younger next door neighbor, although she doesn't see him as a friend since she doesn't consider him a peer. As her widowed father is all consumed with running his small business, Frankie is largely left to the care of their housekeeper, Berenice. Berenice tries to provide as much true guidance to Frankie and what Frankie considers her problems, although Berenice has her own troubles looking after her wild foster brother, Honey Camden, her only surviving family. In addition, Frankie largely sees Berenice's advice as the rantings of a large, crazy black woman. Frankie believes that she has finally found her place in life upon the return to town and announcement ... Written by
Nearly Perfect Depiction Of The McCullers' Classic
It's usually helpful to place things in context. Carson McCullers was born in 1917 in Columbus, Georgia, and left home during the Great Depression in 1934 at age 17 to study piano in New York, but instead was drawn into writing by several New York women university writers. This career choice soon proved fortuitous. Already famous with her "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter", McCullers wrote "The Member Of The Wedding" over five years while her nation was fully engaged with the colossally deadly Second World War in both Europe and Asia. The book was published shortly after the war in 1946 when the gifted writer was 29 and living well in post-war Paris, then being reconstructed with the help of the American Marshall Plan. ("Member" is thus a little reminiscent of "Little Women", oblivious as it was of the massively deadly Civil War in the back yard.)
"The Member Of The Wedding", like most of her best work, draws very heavily on McCullers' own childhood experiences in the poverty-ridden American Depression-era South. While the film moves the time period slightly forward, the story is about the mixed and tumultuous emotions of a self-involved young 12-year old girl ("tomboy") faced with the marriage of her older brother, a soldier. The daughter of a hard-working widowed father, she uses a black maid as her sounding board.
The book's universal appeal derives from the fact that the story is concerned with an adolescent experiencing the normal difficulty of growing up and struggling to become aware of one's self -- always a major problem for pubescent children of both genders. Since the central character here is a girl (Frankie), some critics have emphasized the importance of the sexual identity theme. In the book, Frankie, for example, wishes people could 'change back and forth from boys to girls', while her younger cousin, John Henry, wants them to be 'half boy and half girl'. The play and film reduces all this conflict to little more than mention of a cat that answers to either "Charlie" or "Charlene". This is a shame, since this psycho-social sexual identity theme has been aggressively pursued by American women over the past quarter of a century, including in public schools and education research, mainly by superimposing such a view on boys in a very wide-ranging campaign to re-engineer American males.
The racial theme is secondary in "Wedding" inasmuch as it simply reflects everyday reality in the South when McCullers (Frankie) was a young girl - almost a century ago. This movie is much more noteworthy because of the great American actresses Ethel Waters and Julie Harris (and supporting actor James Edwards), who could always be counted on for perfect performances -- including while performing on LIVE national TV broadcasts of great classics during the 1950s' "Golden Age Of Television". (It is indeed unfortunate that few of those great live TV performances, based on works by Williams, Faulkner, O. Henry, Chekov, Ibsen, etc., were preserved on permanent media. All I have now are wonderful memories of fascinating experiences that introduced me to the world of classic literature as a young teen - in my living room.)
For a much better examination of the racial theme in the American South, see "To Kill A Mockingbird", also written by a young American women writer (Harper Lee) who drew heavily on her own childhood ("tomboy") experiences during the Depression-era and pre-war South (Alabama). Many, myself included, regard her book's central character, Atticus Finch, as America's best fictional male hero. In stark contrast to today's popular view of fathers, Lee used her own widowed dad to help craft an outstanding and ageless role model, a man of true substance.
McCullers' widowed father, on the other hand, also struggling to earn a living while raising children with the help of a black maid, becomes mostly absent to her Frankie an apparently insensitive man of no consequence. Carson McCullers married the same ex-soldier twice; he eventually committed suicide in Paris. McCullers herself suffered with alcoholism and strokes that left her left side paralyzed by age 31. She died in New York at age 50.
Interestingly, both McCullers and Lee became close friends of Truman Capote. These were two American women contemporaries - McCullers and Lee - from very similar background circumstances, who each produced great works of semi-autobiographical fiction -- of a completely different nature. Harper Lee, who never married, was awarded the Presidential Medal Of Freedom at the age of 81 in 2007, some say largely because of the solid character she created, not in herself, but in her dad, Atticus Finch the Last True American Hero.
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