Study Guide

Miss Amelia in Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories

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Miss Amelia

Here Come The Freaks

Here's our Miss Amelia. McCullers doesn't mince words when describing her, no sirree Bob:

She was a dark, tall woman with bones and muscles like a man. Her hair was cut short and brushed back from the forehead, and there was about her sunburned face a tense, haggard quality. She might have been a handsome woman if, even then, she was not slightly cross-eyed. (Ballad.4)

The narrator never seems to miss a chance to tell us how strange Miss Amelia is: she's an oddball.

This giantess trucks around town, attending to her business, and, so mean-spirited that, in tripping over a rock in the road, she'd "glance around instinctively as though looking for something to sue about it" (Ballad.5).

In some ways, Miss Amelia is a bit of a Beast (as in Beauty and The) before Belle shows up. "It was only with people that Miss Amelia was not at ease," (Ballad.5) the narrator reminds us. Cool. So when she's alone she's perfectly nice? That's useful.

But then our misanthropic lady falls in love with a sickly little hunchback, and everything changes…

A Little Miss Amelia In All Of Us

This novella is all about transformative love, and Miss Amelia is both the beneficiary and victim of l'amour.

As she falls for Cousin Lymon, she begins to change (continuing our Beauty and the Beast metaphor, she turns into a kinder, gentler Beast.) McCullers writes: "Her look that night, then, was the lonesome look of the lover" (Ballad.74).

Dig that definite article, "the." In that moment, as she's falling in some kind of love with Lymon, Miss Amelia is the lover. She's sort of a stand-in for all lovers. It's at this moment that we realize that it's Miss Amelia we're definitely supposed to be rooting for, because she's feeling a pretty dang universal feeling.

The Little Miss

As a child, Miss Amelia's father calls her Little, even as she grows super tall. Maybe Miss Amelia's diminutive nickname is supposed to highlight the dominant brand of love her father gives her… or maybe it's just supposed to be funny.

Later, the narrator (and maybe everyone, we can't be sure) addresses her with the title "Miss" which is more loaded than it first appears. Notice that even though she does marry, her "Miss" never changes to "Mrs." This "Miss" highlights the fact that she never really settles down with her deadbeat hubby. It's also a sly reminder that Amelia is pretty dang masculine: calling her "Miss" is as blatant (and, in the gender-normative climate of the 1930's South, as unnatural) as calling a cat "Fido."

On the other hand, Southerners may be quick to point out that many of their regional compatriots address many women and girls with a "Miss" in front of their first name, as matter of respect, regardless of their marital status. Never underestimate Southern manners, y'all.

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