Study Guide

Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories Compassion

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Often the characters in The Ballad of the Sad Café can be mean or contrary or misanthropic or detached, but they melt in the presence of another human's pain. This imperfect stoicism, a closed-off nature, is betrayed, and readers are allowed to momentarily peek into the hearts of otherwise remote weirdoes.

Miss Amelia's doctoring may seem at first to be a self-satisfying display of knowledge and skill, but watching her soothe a little boy in pain with her own cough syrup recipe, shows a compassion we might not otherwise expect. In these stories, compassion is never given to everybody at all times: only those who most need it.

Questions About Compassion

  1. Why does Miss Amelia find it so hard to see her younger patients in pain?
  2. Does Miss Amelia's love for Lymon Willis begin with her care taking? Or, rather, is her love expressed through it?
  3. Why does Mr. Brook want to take care of Madame Zilensky enough to pretend that he believes her lies?
  4. How has Martin's relationship with his children changed as a result of their mother's incapacitation?

Chew on This

In order for someone to be worthy of compassion in a McCullers story, they must in some way be dependent on the prospective caretaker.

By taking such careful care of Cousin Lymon, Miss Amelia makes their relationship more like a mother-and-child thing, and makes it vulnerable to Marvin Macy's ill intentions.

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