Study Guide

Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories Women and Femininity

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Women and Femininity

As soon as Miss Amelia strides onto the scene of The Ballad of the Sad Café, we can begin to understand that Miss Amelia is the perfect portrait of someone entirely unable, and wholly uninterested in cleaving to the standards of what a woman should and should not be, according to society.

The stronger and more independent a female character is, the more their physicality seems to resemble a man's. Understanding this mechanism can tell us a lot about what McCullers's text seem to say about the societal freedom given women of her time, and what taking more, or less, of that freedom means.

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. Who do you think displays more classically feminine qualities, Mr. Brook or Madame Zilensky? What bearing does this seem to have on their interactions?
  2. We hear about how Miss Amelia was raised motherless, and how she is tall as a man and a stronger than most. Are we readers being asked to draw a cause-and-effect relationship between these things?
  3. Do you think Frances is being taken less seriously as a musician by Mister Bilderbach now that she's becoming a woman?
  4. Some of the town believes that Marvin Macy only wants Miss Amelia for her money. What does this say about what the town thinks about a woman's degree of femininity and her ability to be loved?

Chew on This

Ballad is unconcerned by what a woman should or shouldn't be; rather the novella is interested in how the way a woman is a woman affects her capacity to love or be loved.

The physicality of women in these stories telegraph both how feminine and how strongly they are able to hold their convictions: from mannish, stubborn Miss Amelia to the soft, almost frail, and very alcoholic Emily.

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