Study Guide

Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories Women and Femininity

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Women and Femininity

If a patient came with a female complaint she could do nothing. (Ballad.53)

Does Miss Amelia's inability to take care of "women troubles" reflect her discomfort with her own womanhood, or simply her lack of experience?

[...] she would stand there craning her neck against the collar of her shirt, or rubbing her swamp boots together, for all the world like a great, shamed, dumb-tongued child. (Ballad.53)

Just like less-than-hyper masculine Cousin Lymon is compared a boy, unladylike Miss Amelia is reduced to a "a great, shamed, dumb-tongued child" in the eyes of the narrator.

Now, of course, Miss Amelia was a powerful blunderbuss of a person, more than six feet tall—and Cousin Lymon a weakly little hunchback reaching only to her waist. (Ballad.79)

By choosing a love object that is not masculine, Miss Amelia looks even less womanly.

Yet in spite of his well-known reputation he was the beloved of many females in this region—and there were at the time several young girls who were clean-haired and soft-eyed, with tender sweet little buttocks and charming ways. These gentle young girls he degraded and shamed. (Ballad.84)

More conventional women are more vulnerable to Marvin Macy's evil, handsome charms. Not Miss Amelia!

Anyway, she strode with great steps down the aisle of the church wearing her dead mother's bridal gown, which was of yellow satin and at least twelve inches too short for her. (Ballad.88)

The narrator doesn't ever seem to miss a chance to call Miss Amelia on her un-womanly awkwardness.

At least, they counted on the marriage to tone down Miss Amelia's temper, to put a bit of bride-fat on her, and to change her at last into a calculable woman. (Ballad.89)

Maybe now that she's married, she'll at least try to act like a woman.

For some reason, after the day of Marvin Macy's arrival, she put aside her overalls and wore always the red dress she had before this time reserved for Sundays, funerals, and sessions of the court. (Ballad.176)

Looks like someone is psyched to see her ex!

[...] from a salesman who passed through the town she bought a great bunch of paper roses that looked very real. (Ballad.204)

This is just about the only time in the book that Miss Amelia does anything Taylor Swift might also do.

There was not a grain of modesty about Miss Amelia, and she frequently seemed to forget altogether that there were men in the room. (Ballad.193)

Don't you know? The number-one lesson in being a woman is knowing when men are looking at you.

"Make it happy and simple," he said, switching on the lamp behind her and stepping back from the piano. (Ballad.112)

Mister Bilderbach doesn't want all the teen girl drama.

She was a tall, straight woman with a pale and haggard face. Her eyes were deeply shadowed and she wore her dark, ragged hair pushed back from her forehead. She had large, delicate hands, which were very grubby. (Madame.4)

"Haggard," "ragged," and "grubby." What do these words have in common?

Weeks passed and Madame Zilensky seemed to make no effort to get settled or to furnish the house with anything more than a table and some beds. (Madame.12)

Madame Zilensky resists the conventional, feminine urge to nest.

Were they really her children after all, or had she simply rounded them up from somewhere? (Madame.36)

Is Mr. Brook being literal here, or does he believe that Madame Zilensky is such an odd duck that she could not possibly also be a mother?

Ferris recalled that once his father had remarked that Elizabeth had a "beautiful carriage." (Sojourner.6)

This is the first thing John Ferris thinks, watching his ex-wife walk down Fifth Avenue.

The little girl sat demurely on Bailey's knees. She wore a pale pink crepe de Chine frock, smocked around the yoke with rose, and a matching silk hair ribbon tying back her pale soft curls. Her skin was summer tanned and her brown eyes flecked with gold and laughing. (Sojourner.29)

Is the Bailey girl the girliest presence in these stories? What does this say?

Elizabeth was very beautiful, more beautiful perhaps than he had ever realized. Her straight clean hair was shining. Her face was softer, glowing and serene. It was a madonna loveliness, dependent on the family ambiance. (Sojourner.30)

It seems like John Ferris may believe that a woman becomes more of a woman once she settles into family life. (See: "bride-fat.")

[...] his wife was a dissolute woman. Dissolute. And he and his children were bound to a future of degradation and slow ruin. (Domestic.88)

We wonder, does Martin's wife alcoholism make her less of a woman in his eyes?

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