Study Guide

Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories Drugs and Alcohol

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Drugs and Alcohol

The whiskey they drank that evening (two big bottles of it) is important. Otherwise, it would be hard to account for what followed. (Ballad.34)

That's the narrator's excuse, remember, but not necessarily Miss Amelia's reasoning as to why she ultimately invited Lymon in.

Imagine that the whiskey is the fire and that the message is that which is known only in the soul of a man—then the worth of Miss Amelia's liquor can be understood. (Ballad.34)

The purity-through-fire business reminds us of the burnt-and-sanitized needle Miss Amelia uses for her stitches when doctoring.

Later, they said among themselves that she must have been drinking back in the swamp the better part of the afternoon. (Ballad.38)

Again, folks blame it on the a a a a a alcohol.

[...] her liquor even finer than before, if that were possible. (Ballad.77)

We're wondering: does someone being in love actually make them better at distilling whiskey, or is it just that we're happy to see the romance?

That afternoon Marvin Macy took a quart bottle of whiskey and went with it alone out in the swamp while the sun was still shining. Toward evening he came in drunk, went up to Miss Amelia with wet wide eyes, and put his hand on her shoulder. (Ballad.93)

And thus sets in motion a beat-down that will only beget another.

[Henry Macy] was drinking a glass of liquor, which was unusual for him, as liquor went easily to his head and made him cry or sing. (Ballad.112)

Henry is as good as Marvin is bad, so what does it mean that he can't handle his liquor?

So when the hunchback marched into the café everyone looked around at him and there was a quick outburst of talking and a drawing of corks. (Ballad.117)

"Drawing of corks" endures as a short hand for celebration. Though "popping bottles" is the more popular contemporary slang, it's close enough.

Cousin Lymon brought him liquor, for which he did not pay a cent. (Ballad.184)

One could argue that Lymon giving Miss Amelia's enemy her fine liquor was the first but not the least of many aggressive acts, since her whiskey is one of the few things we know Miss Amelia feels happy about.

A few weak characters, of course, were demoralized and got drunk—but they were not numerous. (Ballad.187)

To drink alone, after the rare snow, is apparently a no-no in this small town, where strange or bad or good events mean coming together to drink.

There is no good liquor to be bought in the town; the nearest still is eight miles away, and the liquor is such that those who drink it grow warts on their livers the size of goobers, and dream themselves into a dangerous inward world. (Ballad.231)

Just as the fine clear liquor of Miss Amelia seemed to have a good effect on the town, the rot-gut liquor that remains isn't good for anyone at all.

She had been drinking something from a tumbler and as he entered she put the glass hurriedly on the floor behind the chair. In her attitude there was confusion and guilt which she tried to hide by a show of spurious vivacity. (Domestic.18)

The hiding of the glass signals that though Emily has a clear problem, she's still invested (if just for a moment) in keeping up appearances.

He encountered a latent coarseness in Emily, inconsistent with her natural simplicity. (Domestic.36)

Is Emily's sherry more like Miss Amelia's whiskey? Or is more like the latter-day rot-gut in its qualities?

She was caught in the rhythmic sorrow of alcohol. (Domestic.72)

"Rhythmic"! This makes us wonder how the motif of alcohol could be compared to the motif of music, and to what end.

"Some night you'll go to sleep with your big nose in a mug and drown," said Leo. "Prominent transient drowns in beer. That would be a cute death." (Tree.26)

Are we to believe that the old man is a drunk? Or "just" a drunk? Or a wise man who happens to be drunk?

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