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They sit silently listening to the piano tuner playing the scale on the piano he’s tuning. F. Jasmine thinks there is a huge and significant difference between the G and the F, yet they are side by side on the scale. F. Jasmine reminds Berenice that she hasn’t yet spoken of her next husband, Willis Rhodes. Berenice is startled just at the sound of his name. She tells them she would like them to imagine her lying in a bed all alone one November night since everyone else had gone to another town to a dance. F. Jasmine prompts her to continue and Berenice thinks better of telling this story to children and tries to distract their attention with making cup cakes.
After they finish the dishes, F. Jasmine tells Berenice she
can’t stand more than anything else in the world for someone to start to tell
something and stop. Berenice agrees and tells her it was just something she realized
she couldn’t tell her and John Henry. She tells F. Jasmine she has a surprise
for her. She sends her to the pantry and
At twilight they are still sitting around the kitchen. F. Jasmine brings in the paper and announces to Berenice’s approval that the army is now in Paris. She thinks about this as the last time she’ll be sitting with John Henry and Berenice. She finds their remarks suddenly sad and beautiful. F. Jasmine announces that she plans to take two baths to get perfectly clean. John Henry walks around in Berenice’s high heeled shoes. He asks Berenice "Why?" out of the blue. He wants to know why it’s a crime to change one’s name. She tells him it would lead to confusion. When F. Jasmine pushes the question, she adds that things accumulate around a person’s name. F. Jasmine wants to know what has thus far accumulated around her own name. Berenice can only name the fact that she has finished the B section of the seventh grade and that she won the golden egg at the Easter Hunt. She assures Frankie that things will happen to her to add to this list. She tells Berenice she plans to go by and speak to Big Mama, who lives at Berenice’s house, to get her fortune read. She thinks she should leave now, but can’t bring herself to leave the room.
Finally, she asks Berenice if she doesn’t think it strange that she is she and Berenice is Berenice. No matter how long they are together, they will always be separate people and they will never turn into anyone else. Berenice agrees that she has thought of it occasionally. After a while of silence, Frankie adds another thought. If she saw a green tree, Berenice might agree that it was a green tree, but she might have an entirely different idea of green in her mind than Frankie’s idea. She tries again to express her thoughts. She says a person can meet another person on the street and make some kind of connection with the other, then go away and never see the other one again. Berenice isn’t sure what F. Jasmine is talking about. F. Jasmine says she’s talking about the town. She wants to know all of its members and even everyone in the world. Berenice wants to know what F. Jasmine thinks about knowing the bad ones like Willis Rhodes, the Germans and the Japanese. F. Jasmine tries her hardest to express her thoughts. She walks around the kitchen stiff-legged and feels anxious. She starts to talk loudly about her plans of fortune and fame in her life with Janice and Jarvis. She says they will meet everyone and join many clubs.
After a while, Berenice gets hold of F. Jasmine and pulls her close so she’s sitting on her lap and resting her head on Berenice’s shoulder. John Henry gets jealous and says he’s sick. Berenice tells him to stop grudging his cousin a little bit of love. Berenice holds F. Jasmine and tells her they are all somehow caught, born into an identity, and unable to change it. She tells F. Jasmine she’s caught worse because she’s a Black woman in America. She says everyone is caught in some way, but "they done drawn completely extra bounds around all colored people. They done squeezed us off in one corner by ourselves." She adds that sometimes a boy like Honey feels so squeezed in that he feels like he has to break something or break himself. F. Jasmine wishes Honey could do something for himself and she adds that she, too, feels sometimes as if she could break something. She says she felt that when she lived with Ludie, she was trying to "widen [herself] free," but after all, she was caught and could do nothing about it. F. Jasmine understands what Berenice is saying. She says she also feels sometimes that in addition to being caught, people are somehow loose. The people she sees around her look loose as if she can’t see what joins them together. She wants to know what the reason and connection is. Berenice says she would only know that if she were God.
Berenice tells F. Jasmine she has the sharpest set of bones of anyone she knows. F. Jasmine knows this is a hint for her to get off Berenice’s lap, but she wants to stay a little longer. She says she was trying to express the idea that they are sitting there now and this minute is passing and will never come back.
Before they realize it, they are all three crying. It’s like
they’ve done sometimes when they’re sitting around the kitchen and suddenly they
all start to sing a song. Sometimes they even sing different songs at first and
then wind up singing the same song together. They’ve never started crying before.
They all have different reasons for crying. John Henry is crying because he’s
jealous and because there’s a rat behind the wall. Berenice is crying because
of their talk about African Americans or about Ludie or about how sharp F. Jasmine’s
In this chapter, the reader gets a glimpse of the intimacy between Frankie and Berenice. Berenice has told Frankie and John Henry about her life over and over again until Frankie can sense when Berenice is thinking about someone from her past. Here, McCullers suggests the power of stories for building connections between people. In fact, connection is one of Frankie’s preoccupations in this chapter. She felt a connection when she walked around the town and saw people. Now that she is planning to leave the town, she’s feeling the connections she’s never thought about before.
When Frankie tells Berenice about her experience in seeing something out of the corner of her eye, Berenice exclaims that Frankie has put her thoughts into words. This is the first time Frankie and Berenice have had a moment together of intimate communion, as if Frankie is on the same level of maturity as Berenice. It is a shift for a moment into adulthood. Frankie will go back to being a child, but for a moment, she sees what it is like to be an adult woman talking to another woman.
Frankie is an artist figure. The novel is something of a portrait of the artist as a young girl. McCullers hints at this theme only obliquely. Frankie writes "shows," something like plays. She writes them and performs them in the front yard. She has a flair for the dramatic in all aspects of her life. She dresses up in a Mexican hat and goes around town speaking bits and pieces of Spanish, attracting crowds of children. She and her friend Evelyn dress up in costume and go out together. In this chapter, McCullers shows that Frankie’s mentor in words is Berenice. Berenice tells stories in a kind of trance-like song. She paints such vivid pictures of her life with Ludie that Frankie feels she knows him better than any other dead person of her experience.
Berenice’s idea of people being caught in an identity or a role in society is one of the great insights of this novel. She brings this idea up in response to Frankie’s musings on identity, the strange thing she sees in the fact that no matter how close people are to each other, they will always maintain their separate identities and, no matter how long they live, they will always remain the same person. For Berenice, the sense of identity is figured in a metaphor of entrapment. She recognizes the fact that African Americans are more entrapped because of the system of racism prevalent in the United States. Frankie understands Berenice’s idea and, as a child, she can see some of what African Americans go through in living under racism. She is trapped in a role she doesn’t want and she cannot escape it. Frankie adds another idea to this one, though, the idea that people are loosely connected and that the thread that connects them is unfathomable.Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version