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FREE BOOKNOTES / SUMMARY - THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING
F. Jasmine walks past the jail on her way to get her fortune told in Sugarville. She has been drawn to the jail ever since she committed her crime at Sears and Roebuck. She is horrified and fascinated at the thought that these people can’t get out. F. Jasmine knows some of the people who are in jail. Most of them are African American. She knows one man named Cape who had been accused by a European-American woman of stealing from her. She knows that when people are arrested, the Black Maria, the police van, comes screaming to their house and police pour out and break into the house to drag the person out and off to jail. She has often walked along the Jail-Widow’s Walk this summer. When prisoners have been there looking out from the bars, she’s felt that they were giving her a special look as if she belonged inside with them. Tonight, she can see the silhouette of one prisoner behind the bars. John Henry shouts out to him the question, what are you in for. The man doesn’t answer and John Henry shouts the question again. F. Jasmine scolds him to be silent, telling him to think how he would feel if he were locked up in jail and someone yelled questions at him.
It is after eight o’clock when they reach Sugarville. She knocks on Berenice’s door and announces herself to Big Mama. Big Mama is lying on a bed in the front room. She has mirrors up on the wall to enable her to see around the house. She has a skin disease that makes part of her skin look white. She used to do fancy washing and fluted curtains until she got sick and became bed-ridden. She acquired the second sight and now people come to see her to have their fortunes told. She looks at F. Jasmine for a long time silently and them asks her what her last dream was. F. Jasmine remembers a dream with a door in it. After a few more questions, Big Mama tells her she will experience a change in her life soon, she will marry a boy with blue eyes, she will live to be seventy, and that she should be careful about water. She says she also sees a "red-clay ditch and a bale of cotton." She interrupts her telling to yell into the kitchen "You Satan!" at Honey who has his feet propped up and is dawdling over his supper. He calls in his apology and F. Jasmine is amazed at Big Mama’s powers of divination. She prompts Big Mama to tell her more. Big Mama says she sees a sum of money and a wedding. She says it is the wedding of a near relation and tells F. Jasmine that she sees a trip and a return. F. Jasmine is confused about the return since she doesn’t plan to return. The telling is over.
Honey walks in the room and tells Big Mama he’s planning to go to Forks Falls to hang around. F. Jasmine remembers Big Mama’s saying about Honey. She says he is half-made because God had not gotten around to finishing him. When she was younger, F. Jasmine had been confused about this. It always made her think of a person hopping around on one leg, with one face and one arm. Now she understands it better. She remembers Honey plays a horn, was first in his studies at his high school, has learned some French from self-teaching, and at the same time will run around with wild friends and get himself so sick with it that he has to be carried home. Sometimes he talks in standard American English and sometimes he mumbles so completely that no one can understand him. He is "eternally unsatisfied."
As he stands in the doorway talking to Big Mama, F. Jasmine gets a strong urge to tell him something on this her last night in the town. She can’t think of what to say. She hears a few more words from Big Mama and leaves at the same time Honey does. T. T. has arrived to sit with and read to Big Mama. On the walk away from the house, she tells Honey he should go to Mexico or Cuba. She says he shouldn’t stay in the town and that he can quickly learn Spanish and then he can act like he’s Cuban instead of being Black. Honey is surprised into laughter at this advice and walks down the lane laughing. The fact that Honey said her advice was fantastic makes F. Jasmine feel "included and gay."
She and John Henry walk on toward town. She has almost forgotten John Henry is behind her. He’s dressed in a dress, one of her show costumes. She tells him to go home by himself and as he walks away, she feels tenderness for him since he looks so "babyish and pitiful in the costume."
She enters the Blue Moon and the red-haired soldier comes up to her and leads her to a table. Their conversation is disturbing. He seems to be speaking a double language which she doesn’t understand. She tries and cannot think of how to respond to him. She doesn’t like the way he looks or the way he’s talking, but she feels like she should carry on with the date to its end. After a while, he tells her they should go up to his room. She doesn’t want to, but does. The hallway smells of urine and linoleum. Inside his room, she sits down and looks at the ugly room. "On the light oak bureau there was a glass pitcher full of water and a half-eaten package of cinnamon rolls covered with blue-white icing and fat flies." The man seems "unjoined and ugly." F. Jasmine is struck by the silence in the room. It’s ominous. The man sits down beside her and grasps her and begins to kiss her. She bites down on his tongue and hits him on the head with the pitcher, knocking him out. She escapes out the fire escape.
She runs all the way home and finds John Henry in the yard. She tells him she brained a man with a pitcher and might have killed him. She makes him promise not to tell. Her father is at home sitting in the living room. She’s afraid the Black Maria will come for her. She drinks sweetened condensed milk to get the taste of disgust out of her mouth. Her father tells her to go to bed. She asks him what happens if someone hits someone on the head with a pitcher. He takes it as a joke and she resents him for not taking her seriously. She tells him she will be "so thankful" when she gets to Winter Hill the next day. She goes to sleep beside John Henry afraid she won’t be able to sleep for fear of the police, but when she wakes up, it’s morning.
F. Jasmine notes that most of the men in jail are African American. She recognizes the arbitrary application of the law when it is being used for racist ends. She has seen the unnecessary violence and illegal entry of police into people’s houses to arrest them when they have been merely accused of crimes by European Americans. Frankie, however, doesn’t understand that the police only behave in this way with African Americans. When she knocks out the soldier and thinks she has killed him, she expects the Black Maria to come to her house and police to come pouring in to drag her off to the jail.
F. Jasmine’s experience with the red-haired soldier is epochal in her life. She has been playing around the edges of growing up and suddenly she’s plunged into an adult sexual encounter. McCullers maintains the discipline of the child’s point of view in this passage beautifully. She never shifts to an adult point of view. For instance, when the man kisses Frankie, she says she "bit down with all her might on what must have been the crazy soldier’s tongue." When he first grabs her, she says, "He was not rough, but it was crazier than if he had been rough--and in a second she was paralyzed by horror." Frankie’s reaction is gratifying to the reader. She has enough self-esteem to throw him off and get out of the room. She doesn’t over-ride her instinct to get away from him. After this climax in the narration, Frankie once again changes her name. From now on she will be called Frances.Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version