Study Guide

Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories Lies and Deceit

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Lies and Deceit

People, unless they are nilly-willy or very sick, cannot be taken into the hands and changed overnight to something more worthwhile and profitable. (Ballad.5)

A reputation is created, and immovable, whether it's verifiably true or not. So does that mean Marvin Macy wasn't as bad as all that?

Now this was the day that the rumor started—the rumor so terrible that the town and all the country about were stunned by it. (Ballad.44)

It moments like this that make us wonder about who the narrator is, and what they can and can't know.

It was a fierce and sickly tale the town built up that day. (Ballad.46)

This rumor is described as "sickly," just as Lymon is. And we don't know much for sure about either's origins.

Therefore, according to Mrs. MacPhail, a warty-nosed old busybody who is continually moving her sticks of furniture from one part of the front room to another; according to her and to certain others, these two were living in sin. (Ballad.79)

Even though town-wide rumors are offered without insult, single-person value judgments earn pejorative phrases like "warty-nosed old busybody."

At last she turned him off the premises altogether, and he was forced to suffer publicly. (Ballad.94)

Suffering publicly is of course the worst fate in a small town, where everyone knows your business. (Sometimes you don't want to go where everybody knows your name!)

He nosed around everywhere, knew the intimate business of everybody, and trespassed every waking hour. (Ballad.117)

Lymon's nosiness and thirst for rumor seems to get a pass, while warty Mrs. MacPhail's does not. How come, do you think?

People are never so free with themselves and so recklessly glad as when there is some possibility of commotion or calamity ahead. (Ballad.28)

It isn't just joy the town (or all people, as the narrator would say) takes in a sign of some overly fictionalized scandal. It's "reckless" joy. Seems a bit unseemly?

But there was something about this conversation with Madame Zilensky that bothered him. [...] The children didn't look at all like Madame Zilensky, but they looked exactly like each other, and as they all had different fathers, Mr. Brook thought the resemblance astonishing. (Madame.26)

The doubt of different fathers is the first real sign of Madame Zilensky's lies. It seems like her tale-telling quirks pre-dates this moment. So what is it about this that makes Mr. Brook suddenly suspect something?

The words seemed so true, inevitable, that Ferris did not at first acknowledge to himself the lie. (Sojourner.72)

John Ferris may be lying to his ex-wife and her family, but he certainly doesn't feel like he's lying. So does it still count?

He felt that his secretary had divined the trouble long ago and that she pitied him. He suffered a moment of rebellion against his fate; he hated his wife. (Domestic.73)

This is in the last moments before the end of "Domestic Dilemma." It kind of seems like Martin may hate his wife not just because she's an alcoholic, but because she's lying to him, and ruining his rep at work.

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