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The Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers

Dr. Susan Cotton, English 1302

Topics and Themes

  • Loneliness
  • Isolation
  • The Power of Love
  • Psychological phenomenon that causes human beings who are worshiped to despise the worshiper
  • The use of music to substitute for words and powerful feelings

Amelia Evans - Owns the Sad Cafe and is a tall, powerful, independent, shrewd, industrious, and capable loner.

Cousin Lymon - A sociable man who enjoys entertaining the townsfolk with tall tales. He claims to be a cousin of Amelia and despite his being a dwarf and a hunchback, she adores him.

Marvin Macy - An outlaw and ex-husband of Miss Amelia.  He returns to town when he is released from prison.

Narrator - An unnamed, omniscient resident of the town.  His observations and memories are the story.

Stumpy MacPhail - A foreman who hangs around Miss Amelia’s store and café.  

Henry Macy - Marvin Macy’s brother. Where Marvin is evil, Henry is kind and meek. He tells Amelia that Marvin is getting released from prison.  

Merlie Ryan - A sickly weaver who made up the rumor that Miss Amelia killed Cousin Lymon the first night he stayed. He frequently makes up rumors, so no one believes him. 

  • Compassion in the narration
  • Character study
  • Reliability of the narrator
  • Southern grotesque
  • Mystical qualities connecting story to the Southern Gothic period
  • Sad Cafe as folklore

A coda is defined as:  

a concluding section extraneous to the form as usually defined; any concluding passage that can be understood as occurring after the structural conclusion of a work and that serves as a formal closing gesture. Although codas may on occasion consist of only a few perfunctory chords, they may on other occasions assume considerable dimensions and cannot always be regarded as essentially superfluous. 


a sequence following the resolution of the story at the end of the final act that provides a more definite and satisfactory conclusion to the work, often indicating what the main characters go on to do next; the audiovisual equivalent of the afterword or epilogue in a book. 


Coda [It., tail]. (2003). In D. M. Randel (Ed.), The Harvard dictionary of music (4th ed.). Harvard University Press. Credo Reference

Coda. (2014). In R. W. Kroon, A/V a to z: An encyclopedic dictionary of media, entertainment and other Audiovisual terms. McFarland. Credo Reference

Setting - The novella takes place in a small southern mill town in the first half of the 20th century. The closest train stop is in Society City and three miles away is Fork Falls Road where the chain gang works. Cheehaw is a nearby town where Miss Amelia’s great aunt lived and where Fanny Jesup, Cousin Lymon’s mother, was from. Atlanta, Georgia is mentioned as a big city that Miss Amelia hates.  

The town has a cotton mill, a church, and a main street 100 yards long. The winters are short and raw while the summers glare fiery hot. On the main street, the largest building is Miss Amelia’s place which was a store and was turned into a café for a few years. There is also a swamp where Miss Amelia keeps a still.  

Background Information

Author's Life, Critical Reception and Importance of her Work

American Writers

Supplement 23
Includes biographical information and analyzes major themes.

The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English: Carson McCullers (eBook)

Includes entries for writers, texts, general terms, genres and movements.

Modern American Women Writers (eBook)

Presents commentary and analysis on American women writers from a variety of ethnic groups and genres. Entries include biographical information, critical analysis, and bibliographies of key primary and secondary works.

Carson McCullers (eBook)

Provides in-depth analysis of the life, works, career, and critical importance of Carson McCullers.

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