Study Guide

Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories Drugs and Alcohol

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Drugs and Alcohol

An internet search about the life of Carson McCullers reveals that she liked to drink. (One of her biographers wasn't very shy about it, calling her "sickly, paralyzed, alcoholic and depressed.") While it's never a good idea to mix up an author's life with her work, it's worthwhile to think about the ways a book can explore such central issues.

In The Ballad of the Sad Café and the accompanying stories, booze plays dual roles, both as a clarifying truth serum and a destructive force. As with the book's other myriad odd couples, alcohol's duality may perhaps be another expression of complicated love.

Questions About Drugs and Alcohol

  1. The high quality of Miss Amelia's whiskey seems a point of pride and value to the town. The narrator lends it magical qualities, saying that it burns away all that's false. What might the narrator also be saying about the story told therein?
  2. Is it important to the community quality of the café that it's essentially a place to drink with other people?
  3. In A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud, the newspaper boy keeps asking Leo is the old man is drunk. Is he saying that being drunk is most reasonable excuse for such a tale? Is there a value judgment in that?

Chew on This

In Ballad alcohol, even when it seems positive, is ultimately a negative force on the characters.

Alcohol should be treated like any other of McCullers's complicated characters: in this work, sometimes it tells the truth, and sometimes it muddies it.

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