Study Guide

Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories What's Up With the Title?

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What's Up With the Title?

A Country Song Backwards, Forwards

If you've ever heard a country song, you know what a ballad is: a man loses his woman, his job, his home, his truck, and his dog.

While classically defined a ballad is a story set to music, by the nineteenth century authors like Oscar Wilde were using the form to explore biographical or societal ills. McCullers' moral-driven Ballad uses tragic characters to talk about everything from gender to small-town values, and we watch as Miss Amelia loses everything near and dear.

But How Come the Café is So Sad?

The story is certainly tragic, so "sad" isn't much of a stretch, but it's worth a wonder: is the title referring to the café in its heyday, with Miss Amelia at its helm, or in the present-day of the story, its building leaning dangerously to one side?

Titles With a Little Less Mystery

Elsewhere, McCullers titles her stories with bullseye precision. In "Wunderkind" and "The Sojourner," we learn about the protagonists' hopes, while "Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland" and "A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud" point to the stories' most urgent messages.

"The Jockey" and "A Domestic Dilemma," however, do their job with ironic understatement; that the jockey is just a jockey and alcoholism is merely a dilemma seems at the heart of these tragic narratives.

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