Study Guide

Marvin Macy in Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories

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Marvin Macy

Like Cousin Lymon, Marvin Macy can be seen from two different sides. Sure, both behave like a spoiled child with a pathological need for the pain of others, (think Macaulay Culkin's early turn in The Good Son). But why is he like this?

Cloven-Hoofed Devil

If you love Miss Amelia for her outcast status and sweetness toward Cousin Lymon, you'll probably hate Marvin Macy. And the narrator pushes us this way too, with direct characterization like "the evil in him was now too famous for his good looks to get him anywhere" (Ballad.170). He "ruins" sweet young ladies and cuts the tails off squirrels with glee… to say nothing of his actual crimes of robbery and possibly murder.

When Marvin Macy comes back to town to wreak havoc on any scrap of joy Miss Amelia's managed to find, how can we be surprised? He's just a bad man doing bad things.

Spurned Lover Looking to Regain His Pride

But remember: every villain has an origin story.

Miss Amelia may have grown up without a mother, but Marvin Macy grew up with two parents that liked to hit. And though his brother Henry emerges from the bad situation like a saint, it affects Marvin differently:

The heart of a hurt child can shrink so that forever afterward it is hard and pitted as the seed of a peach. (Ballad.86)

So maybe we can excuse Marvin's early mischief—his parents were horrible. But then he marries Miss Amelia… and she also hits him.

Though no one seems to quite understand why Marvin falls in love with Miss Amelia, or why Miss Amelia says yes to his proposal, it's clear in the matrimonial aftermath that neither will be very happy. They walk home from the church, Marvin trailing behind Amelia. She begins by "treating her groom in exactly the same manner she would have used with some customer" but things go from bad to worse.

The marriage is never consummated. Marvin follows his bride sadly, and not knowing what to do, signs over to her "the whole of his worldly goods, which was ten acres of timberland which he had bought with the money he had saved" (Ballad.93).

She seems unmoved, and when he touches her, about to say something, she hits "his face so hard that he was thrown back against the wall and one of his front teeth was broken" (Ballad.93). It's only a matter of time before he hits the road, leaving behind a love letter/threat mash-up. Soon after he lands in jail, with nothing but time to think about how to exact revenge.

So it's up to you: is Marvin Macy just a sociopath, or is he a beaten child that ends up getting beaten by his beloved wife… and totally cracks?

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