Carson McCullers’ The Ballad of the Sad Cafe

I read Carson McCuller’s novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter a few years ago. While I don’t remember disliking it, I have to admit I don’t remember much about it at all. I had heard a few things about McCullers’ novella The Ballad of the Sad Cafe so I decided to give it a try.


I’ve heard that McCullers’ work is considered Southern Gothic so I had to do a little bit of research about the term. On, I found out that Southern Gothic grew out of the English Gothic stories of the 18th and 19th century. Southern Gothic stories began in the early 20th century in the southern United States.

Again, according to, Southern Gothic tales do not necessarily contain the supernatural or “horror” related details as other Gothic stories might, but they instead focus on the grotesque, bizarre and unstable aspects of human nature.

Here are some Southern Gothic examples from The Ballad of the Sad Café:

  • The cafe’s owner and the story’s protagonist, Miss Amelia, uses her kidney stones in a charm bracelet for her Cousin Lymon.
  • Miss Amelia’s relationship with the hunchback she refers to as Cousin Lymon is ambiguous at best.
  • The unofficial (and literal) boxing match between Miss Amelia and her estranged husband Marvin Macy draws quite a crowd.

The sad part of this story is the way the people are never able to quite get their relationships right. Marriages, friendships, community – all of them seem to be a little off. The cafe that Miss Amelia accidentally sets into place becomes a kind of sanctuary for the people of her town – but as with most relationships in this story, it doesn’t last.

Here’s a little of what it’s like living in Miss Amelia’s community:

There is no good liquor to be bought in the town; the nearest still is eight miles away, and the liquor is such that those who drink it grow warts on their livers the size of goobers, and dream themselves into a dangerous inward world. There is absolutely nothing to do in the town. Walk around the millpond, stand kicking at a rotten stump, figure out what you can do with the old wagon wheel by the side of the road near the church. The soul rots with boredom. You might as well go down to the Forks Falls highway and listen to the chain gang.




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