Study Guide

Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories Community

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At such a time, no individual hesitates. And whether the matter will be settled peaceably, or whether the joint action will result in ransacking, violence, and crime, depends on destiny. (Ballad.51)

A group can't be held accountable for its actions the way an individual can.

So these good people felt toward her something near to pity [...] —they had toward her a feeling which was a mixture of exasperation, a ridiculous little inside tickle, and a deep, unnamable sadness. (Ballad.48)

It's important to note that these "good people" number only three. Everyone else is waiting to see the blood smears on Miss Amelia's hands, evidence that she's killed the hunchback.

The group still clustered around, feeling somewhat gawky and bewildered. This sensation never quite wore off, but it was soon tempered by another feeling— an air of intimacy in the room and a vague festivity. (Ballad.65)

Interestingly, "gawky" seems like the feeling of a single person, rather than a crowd.

[...]— all having taken pleasure from something or other, all having wept and suffered in some way, most of them tractable unless exasperated.[...] So, for the present, think of them as a whole. (Ballad.65)

The narrator instructs us to think of the town as whole. And doesn't that pretty much make sense? For the reader (an individual) has little in common with the townsfolk, but the townsfolk have so much in common with each other.

There was a tension [...] partly because of the oddity of the situation and because Miss Amelia was still closed off in her office and had not yet made her appearance. (Ballad.67)

By dividing herself from the crowd in her own store, Miss Amelia makes everyone else uncomfortable.

For the atmosphere of a proper café implies these qualities: fellowship, the satisfactions of the belly, and a certain gaiety and grace of behavior. This had never been told to the gathering in Miss Amelia's store that night. But they knew it of themselves, although never, of course, until that time had there been a café in the town. (Ballad.73)

The narrator seems interested in natural human intuition, the invisible inclinations we all fall into unknowingly. Where do you think these intuitions come from?

But this is not a town to let white orphans perish in the road before your eyes. (Ballad.85)

The adjective "white" lets us know: it's likely the town described, or at least the community concerned, is all white, and says something about a very segregated South, without much more than that one word.

The town laughed a long time over this grotesque affair. (Ballad.97)

Is the town demonstrating cruelty here? A lack of empathy for Miss Amelia or Marvin Macy? Plain boredom?

To begin with she had no patience with any traveling; those who had made the trip to Atlanta or traveled fifty miles from home to see the ocean—those restless people she despised. "Going to Atlanta does no credit to him." (Ballad.174)

Although Miss Amelia certainly enjoys her alone time, the gesture of leaving town and community for somewhere more glamorous or bustling impresses her not a whit.

There were always plenty of people clustered around a mill—but it was seldom that every family had enough meal, garments, and fat back to go the rounds. Life could become one long dim scramble just to get the things needed to keep alive. (Ballad.179)

There is an impoverishment and pain to this moment that, like the racism of the day, occurs only on the outskirts of the story. Why do you think these issues weren't brought to the fore?

The people in the town were likewise proud when sitting at the tables in the café. They washed before coming to Miss Amelia's, and scraped their feet very politely on the threshold as they entered the café. (Ballad.180)

There is a special code of conduct in the café, as particular and learned as a tea ceremony, if not quite as historically regarded.

So the fight was to take place at seven o'clock. This was known to everyone, not by announcement or words, but understood in the unquestioning way that rain is understood, or an evil odor from the swamp. (Ballad.209)

This certainly is a romantic way to put things. Is this a moment of magic, a dramatic overstatement, or the story turning a bit mythical?

Years before, when the music department had decided to gang together and spend the summer in Salzburg, Mr. Brook sneaked out of the arrangement at the last moment and took a solitary trip to Peru. (Madame.3)

Mr. Brook's self-isolation sets the scene for his attraction to Madame Zilensky, to a different kind of community.

His own life seemed so solitary, a fragile column supporting nothing amidst the wreckage of the years. (Sojourner.33)

It's only when John Ferris watches his ex-wife conduct her happy domesticity that his own expatriation is found so wanting. (Also, let's not forget that his father has just passed.)

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