The Ballad of the Sad Café


“The Ballad of the Sad Café” by Carson McCullers
(First publication: 1951 / This edition: Mariner Books 2005)
Taken during morning coffee at Brew Bros when I was in Hong Kong back in June

First of all, love is a joint experience between two persons—
but the fact that is is a joint experience does not mean that it is a similar experience to the two people involved.

There are six other stories in this book; I’ve only read “The Ballad of the Sad Café”. I enjoyed it, but wasn’t too into it, I guess…so I didn’t feel like continuing to the other ones. And if anything, it made me realize even more that I’m not really into short stories. I prefer the longer, more detailed ones.

It was a nice story though—the plot and all the characters made me upset, but I guess it’s those stories that trigger so many emotions that make them more memorable than others.

This story is about Miss Amelia and her café. She’s got a difficult personality and had a rough past with the first and only man she ever married and divorced. Since then, she always keeps a distance from people and lives mostly with just her solitude. One day, a quirky hunchback man, Cousin Lymon, comes into her life and strangely, she accepts him and he moves in with her. They become a duo—I’m unsure of what kind of relationship they have with each other, but Miss Amelia seems to love him and is willing to do anything for him. Some time passes and then Miss Amelia’s ex-husband shows up, and everything in their universe just kind of goes off balance.

Things just go crazy from there.

I enjoyed the story but I wouldn’t say it’s a favorite. It’s one of those stories where you just hate every character, and if you were in that situation, you’d just leave town exasperated at the ignorance and stubbornness of all the townspeople. I kept thinking that the things could’ve turned out differently and the way everything went bad was all because of each person’s stubbornness and ego. Just let it go. There really wasn’t a single person I liked, so I ended up just criticizing each in my head—but that’s the “fun” in it, I guess.

If you’re looking for a drama-filled, emotional short story, you should read this one (71 pages). I’ll probably get around to read the others in this book some time in the future. There’s “Wunderkind”, “The Jockey”, “Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland”, “The Sojourner”, “A Domestic Dilemma”, and “A Tree, a Rock, a Cloud”.


Here is my favorite passage from this story:

First of all, love is a joint experience between two persons—but the fact that is is a joint experience does not mean that it is a similar experience to the two people involved. There are the lover and the beloved, but these two come from different countries. Often the beloved is only a stimulus for all the stored-up love which has lain quiet within the lover for a long time hitherto. And somehow every lover knows this. He feels in his soul that his love is a solitary thing. He comes to know a new, strange loneliness and it is this knowledge which makes him suffer. So there is only one thing for the lover to do. He must house his love within himself as best he can; he must create for himself a whole new inward world—a world intense and strange, complete in himself. Let it be added here that this lover about whom we speak need not necessarily be a young man saving for a wedding ring—this lover can be man, woman, child, or indeed any human creature on this earth.

Now, the beloved can also be of any description. The most outlandish people can be the stimulus for love. A man may be a doddering great-grandfather and still love only a strange girl he saw in the streets of Cheehaw one afternoon two decades past. The preacher may love a fallen woman. The beloved may be treacherous, greasy-headed, and given to evil habits. yes, and the lover may see this as clearly as anyone else—but that does not affect the evolution of his love one whit. A most mediocre person can be the object of a love which is wild, extravagant, and beautiful as the poison lilies of the swamp. A good man may be the stimulus for a love both violent and debased, or a jabbering madman may bring about in the soul of someone a tender and simple idyll. Therefore, the value and quality of any love is determined solely by the lover himself. (p.26)


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