Southern Women Playwrights: New Essays in Literary History and Criticism

By Robert L. McDonald; Linda Rohrer Paige | Go to book overview

5
The Delayed Entrance of Lily Mae Jenkins:
Queer Identity, Gender Ambiguity, and
Southern Ambivalence in Carson McCullers's
The Member of the Wedding

Betty E. McKinnie Carlos L. Dews

Despite the importance the South plays in her fiction and drama, Carson McCullers was ambivalent about her native region. Delma Eugene Presley, in “Carson McCullers and the South,” and Louis Rubin, in “Carson McCullers: The Aesthetic of Pain,” provide insight into the possible sources of her feelings toward the South and the impact these feelings had on her work, yet both critics fail to consider perhaps the most important reason for her desire to escape the South. Our essay, through the examination of an obscure character once proposed then removed from her first novel and only mentioned in a later novel and play, suggests that McCullers's ambivalence comes from her response to the South's homophobia and its strict demands of gendered behavior. We not only furnish a new reading of McCullers as a playwright and as an unconventional Southern woman, but we also encourage a more general reading of queer and gender identity in all of her work. This new key to reading McCullers's response to the South appears in the ghostly form of a “waifish Negro homosexual,” Lily Mae Jenkins (McCullers, “Author's Outline” 140).

In 1938, Carson McCullers sub mitted an outline of her first novel, “The Mute” (published as The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter), to Houghton Mifflin as an entry in a first novel contest. The author described “The Mute” in her outline as “the story of five isolated, lonely people in their search for expression and spiritual integration with something greater than themselves. One of these five persons is a deaf mute, John Singer and it is around him that the whole book pivots” (125). McCullers describes one of the proposed secondary characters as “an abandoned, waifish Negro homosexual who haunts the Sunny Dixie show where Jake [Blount] works. He is always dancing. His mind and feelings are childish and he is totally unfit to earn his living” (140). McCullers also incor

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