Study Guide

Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories Community

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Isolation means nothing without the contrast of a community, for the characters in The Ballad of the Sad Cafe. Miss Amelia separates herself from the town after providing it a meeting place, while Marvin Macy rots alone in jail after being thrown out of town (and committing some crimes).

John Ferris finds family life beautiful but awkward-feeling after so many years of his traveling solo lifestyle, and Martin wonders if it was the move north, away from family and friends, that drove his wife to the bottle. This constant comparison between a lonely state, and a peopled one, seems to say something about being a single person in a world of single people, and what that means.

Questions About Community

  1. Miss Amelia, alone her boarded-up building, is configured as mournful and barely human while the town goes on without her. But there's no evidence she liked people all that much anyway. Is the narrator projecting, making assumptions, or telling her truth?
  2. Nowadays, an internet connection means an instant community, and that complete isolation is more rare. What kind of comparisons can you draw between the town in Ballad and being a citizen of the internet?
  3. Do you buy Martin's correlation between his family's move from their community in the South and his wife's alcohol issues? Or does it have something to do with her isolation in the home itself?

Chew on This

Just as the Twelve Mortal Men on the chain gang join in song and create beauty, a person is nothing without others.

With all of the misfits in these stories, it's clear: being a strange stranger in is a sure way to get nobody in a tightly knit town to trust you.

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