Carson McCullers was persuaded by her friend and contemporary Tennessee Williams to adapt her 1949 novel “The Member of the Wedding” for the stage. On the 5 January 1950 the play opened on Broadway. Plaudits soon followed, from esteemed sources. Edith Sitwell was so impressed that she called her a “transcendental writer”.
McCullers indeed had a rare gift and vision. She possessed an almost divine insight into the lives of people considered as outcasts by wider society. She imbued the seemingly insignificant moments of existence with a numinous quality. In her first novel, “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter” she explores the isolation and difficulty faced by John Singer, a profoundly deaf man living in a mill town in Georgia. The rest of the community remain oblivious to the complexities of his character until his death. It is only in the aftermath of his suicide that they reach a kind of epiphany and awakening to the profound influence that he had upon their lives, as McCullers herself explains,
“Because of their loneliness these other people see in the mute a certain mystic superiority and he becomes in a sense their ideal. Because of Singer`s infirmity his outward character is vague and unlimited. His friends are able to impute to him all the qualities which they would wish for him to have.”
Singer`s quiet but almost noble suffering is acknowledged in the narrative. It is limiting to just perceive his disability as this belies his tremendous gift for understanding and compassion.
A common theme behind McCullers work is revealing the hidden depths of ostensibly naive and unworldly characters. In “The Member of the Wedding” Frankie Addams is a much more complex character than the narrative suggests, her imagination is vividly brought to life in the drama. She is an adolescent girl filled with half-baked notions in the eyes of those around her, but her understanding of romance is vastly superior compared to the adults. She can perceive the beauty of her brother`s impending wedding while the supposedly more mature characters are blind to it. It shows that the adults have become coarsened by their own experiences of misfortune in love and these have made them cynical and bitter. The play was made into a film two years later.
The experiences endured by McCullers characters are familiar to anyone who has felt like an outsider. However her characters always have the ability to rise above condescension and ignorance as they are allowed a degree of majesty that is too often written out by lesser writers.