Strange Bodies: Gender and Identity in the Novels of Carson McCullers

By Sarah Gleeson-White | Go to book overview

4
Two Bodies in One
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and
The Ballad of the Sad Café

Fundamental to this account of the grotesque in McCullers's texts is the anxiety attending the formation of identity. This anxiety takes the form of various tensions, which include those between the adolescent promise of lines of flight and social demands for conformity, between the male body and its feminization, and between femininity and masculinity. The Bakhtinian concept of “two bodies in one” (Rabelais 52) can elucidate what is occurring in such tensions.

Most immediately, “two bodies in one” conjures up the figure of androgyny. Although there are several characters whom we might consider androgynous, such as Singer, Mick, and Frankie, I will focus on a comparison between male androgyny, in the figure of Biff Brannon, and female androgyny, in the figure of Miss Amelia Evans, in terms of classical androgyny and what I term “grotesque androgyny” to reveal that androgyny predicated on classical notions of synthesis and wholeness cannot adequately account for the types of subjectivity McCullers's texts explore. Traditional concepts of androgyny rely on the assumption that masculinity and femininity have a fixed essence, whereas, as we have seen, McCullers conceives of gender in terms of masquerade. Not only is gender nomadic, but it is the tension between gendered subject possibilities that produces McCullers's grotesque subjects.

First, then, I trace more traditional readings of androgyny in both The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and The Ballad of the Sad Café, highlighting their limitations. I then weigh up the efficacy or otherwise of the Bakhtinian model of “two bodies in one.” This involves a close examination of

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