Study Guide

Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories Plot Analysis

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Plot Analysis

Here, we break down the plot of the novella only. After reading it, maybe you'll want to try the same kind of analysis on one the stories.

Exposition (Initial Situation)

A Dusty Southern Town, Haunted By The Good Times No One Is Having

This town, like so many other towns in mid-century, postwar America, is marked by boredom. But once it was home to a crazy good time.
It all starts when Miss Amelia, the richest woman, in town meets a hunchback named Lymon Willis. Their weird love makes life better for everyone in town: Miss Amelia opens a café in her general store, and the people suddenly have somewhere to make merry, gossip, and tease each other. Everything goes swimmingly, more or less, for nigh on six years.

Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

Another Stranger Comes Town

Okay: maybe evil, handsome Marvin Macy isn't a stranger, since he grew up in the town… but he's been gone a long time, in prison or worse.

There was a time when Miss Amelia and Marvin Macy were married, but to say it didn't go well is the understatement of the century. When Marvin Macy comes back, it's clear he's up to no good, but crook-backed Cousin Lymon gets a kind of crush on the man, forgetting all the sweetness and care Miss Amelia has shown him.

Cousin Lymon follows Marvin Macy on his terrible rounds each day, watching as he taunts the factory workers and eats more than his share at any meal. Miss Amelia doesn't know what to do. On the one hand she wants to get back the attention of Cousin Lymon, and, on the other, she wants to punish or hurt or kill her estranged husband by any means necessary.

Things go from bad to worse for Miss Amelia when Cousin Lymon announces that Marvin Macy will be moving in with them. After poison, trespassing signs, and open sneering fail to get him out, Miss Amelia begins to prepare for a fight.

Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

Fight Night

On Groundhog Day, Miss Amelia and Marvin Macy are ready to come to blows. After preparing with a raw meat lunch (yummy) and some restorative napping, they face off on the café floor, surrounded by townspeople.

Lymon looks on from the counter, jeering and over-excited. The fighters are well matched, but when Miss Amelia finally manages to pin Marvin Macy to the floor, Cousin Lymon sails as if by magic from the counter to Miss Amelia's back. He claws at her neck until the fortunes are reversed, and Marvin Macy wins the fight.

Falling Action

Nobody Wins

Having lost, Miss Amelia drags her poor body to bed, in a kind of shock. As she sleeps, evil Marvin Macy and Cousin Lymon set about to stealing all her valuables and destroying everything else. They leave before first light, and when Miss Amelia wakes, she sees what has happened. She has a carpenter board over the windows of her building, and never opens up the café to the town again.

Resolution (Denouement)

After the Death of Love

Now that the café is gone, there's nothing left in the town but work and boredom. The only respite? The singers down on the highway on a chain gang. Their voices are not only relieving, the narrator explains, but meaningful. Together their voices make beauty outside this unfortunate town.

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