Study Guide

Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories Love

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Often the beloved is only a stimulus for all the stored-up love which has lain quiet within the lover for a long time hitherto. (Ballad.80)

In Ballad, a tall mannish (possibly lonely) woman falls in love with an ageless, sickly hunchback. Love, in McCullers's estimation, is much more about the lover, and what he needs, than the beloved, and what he is.

He must house his love within himself as best he can; he must create for himself a whole new inward world—a world intense and strange, complete in himself. (Ballad.80)

Loving is a form of isolation, which makes us wonder if Miss Amelia a "complete" woman herself, in her boarded-up building, at the end of the story.

That solitary, gangling, queer-eyed girl was the one he longed for. Nor did he want her because of her money, but solely out of love. (Ballad.84)

It's interesting here that the narrator doesn't seem much interested in explaining why Marvin Macy falls in love with Miss Amelia. But this isn't the first time they refuse to explain the emotions or interior motivations going on in a character's head.

For two years he loved Miss Amelia, but he did not declare himself. He would stand near the door of her premises, his cap in his hand, his eyes meek and longing and misty gray. He reformed himself completely. (Ballad.87)

This is the kind of love that we're used to pop culture: love that can reform a criminal, and make a frog a prince. Or at least the kind of love that will make a frog sit still long enough for you to put a crown on him...

That was one of the ways in which she showed her love for him. He had her confidence in the most delicate and vital matters. (Ballad.110)

In this story, love makes you give away everything you hold dear. This means private, stoic Miss Amelia gets chatty around her beloved hunchback.

An old couple who had come in from the country hesitated for a moment at the doorway, holding each other's hand, and finally decided to come inside. They had lived together so long, this old country couple, that they looked as similar as twins. (Ballad.129)

Unlike Miss Amelia and Marvin Macy, or Miss Amelia and Cousin Lymon, or Marvin Macy and Cousin Lymon, this old couple resembles each other.

"Yeah. They were particular friends," Sylvester said. "You would always find him up in Bitsy's hotel room. They would be playing rummy or else lying on the floor reading the sports page together." (Jockey.13)

There's something in the use of the word "particular" that seems condescending, here. Do you agree?

A great commotion of feelings—understanding, remorse, and unreasonable love—made him cover his face with his hands. (Madame.59)

For Mr. Brook, sympathy brings sudden love, as if understanding anything can make you love it. Sound familiar, old guy from "A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud"?

Martin loved to bathe his children, loved inexpressibly the tender, naked bodies as they stood in the water so exposed. It was not fair of Emily to say that he showed partiality. (Domestic.76)

In taking charge of the children when the maid is off duty, and his wife Emily is on a bender, Martin feels and demonstrates a closeness rarely portrayed by fathers of this era.

With inner desperation he pressed the child close—as though an emotion as protean as his love could dominate the pulse of time. (Sojourner.94)

To love, Martin believes, you've got to engage in some "magical thinking."

[...] sorrow paralleled desire in the immense complexity of love. (Domestic.90)

As far as McCullers is concerned you can't spell "love" without a-n-g-s-t.

"I am talking about love," the man said. "With me it is a science." (Tree.28)

After listening to the old man's story, told to the newspaper boy, which seems like a more fitting descriptor of the way he thinks about love? "Science," or "story"?

"All my life one thing after another has impressed me. [...] Nothing seemed to finish itself up or fit in with the other things. [...] I was a man who had never loved." (Tree.38)

The old man seems like the only character in the book that feels as if love completes. Wonder what Miss Amelia would have to say about that.

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