Study Guide

Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories Red

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Lots of things in the world are red—apples! fireman outfits!— but in Miss Amelia's sleepy southern town, we can only think of three or four red things.

Miss Amelia's Dress

Miss Amelia's regular uniform is her overalls and swamp boots, but for church visits she puts on a "dark red dress that hung on her in a most peculiar fashion" (Ballad.77). That red dress gets a lot more use once Marvin Macy comes to town, and we wonder why.

When the actress Vanessa Redgrave played Miss Amelia in the film adaptation, she seemed to think that the red dress's more regular appearance signified that Miss Amelia was marking "the fact that she has become a woman." But we wonder if that makes too much of an interpretive leap.

The text itself won't make a guess, saying:

For some reason, after the day of Marvin Macy's arrival, she put aside her overalls and wore always the red dress she had before this time reserved for Sundays, funerals, and sessions of the court. (Ballad.176)

It isn't until it's time to fight Marvin that she's seen in overalls again. Is the change of dress purely practical, or does it work symbolically too?

Home Decorating with Miss Amelia

While red curtains are often thought of as pretty theatrical, a curtain call does not seem to be on Miss Amelia's mind as she has "made red curtains for the windows" (Ballad.178) around the time of her overall-to-dress switch-ball-change.

We're left wondering if she's thirsting for some privacy, a precursor to the boards that make their way across her windows by story's end. Or is it something else?

Marvin the Red

While mean Marvin Macy is no Viking warrior, the color red certainly seems to be part of his person and uniform. He arrives in town in a red shirt, and on Sundays, (the only days Miss Amelia used to wear her red dress),

[…] he dressed in his red shirt and paraded up and down the road with his guitar. He was still handsome—with his brown hair, his red lips, and his broad strong shoulders [...] (Ballad.170)

In context, it's hard not to think of all of the usual associations with red: blood, passion, anger. And these apply, more or less, for this criminal lovesick lout.

So is Miss Amelia asserting her womanhood, signifying aggression, or simply stealing Marvin's sartorial choices to make him angry? Something devious certainly seems to be going on.

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