McCullers uses language and sound to symbolize Frankie’s metamorphosis from a child to an adolescent. As a child, Frankie was able to slip on a costume to make herself into whomever she pleased. But during this summer, she seeks a larger character, something more permanent. She firmly believes that naming herself as a member and “telling the wedding” to everyone she encounters, she makes herself into F. Jasmine. However, she cannot articulate exactly what is happening to her. She often begins sentences yet does not complete them. Or she begins conversations by saying, “‘Now a funny thing has happened to me. . . . I don’t hardly know how to tell just what I mean.’” Frankie’s disappointment at the wedding teaches her that language does not always shape reality. She had imagined “Winter Hill” as cold and northern; it was in fact hot and further south. The “bride: wore a suit, not a white dress or veil. And most importantly, she was not “the member of the wedding.”
After the wedding, Frankie’s language changes. She “was never once to speak about the wedding.” By fall, she has turned thirteen and found a friend, and her language shows her recovery. She begins to say that “‘I’m just mad about’—but the sentence was left unfinished for the hush was shattered when, with an instant shock of happiness, she heard the ringing of the bell.” Frankie has grown more guarded, but a girl still heading into womanhood.
McCullers uses sounds as motifs for vagueness or things unfinished. Music in particular functions as a motif for things heard, but not quite grasped, just as Frankie cannot quite grasp the change within herself. The radio shapes Frankie’s vague ideas about the world. She follows the illusive music of the Monkey Man in order to tell this childhood favorite that she is now a member of the wedding and no longer a child. Sounds of children playing filter into the kitchen, but they do not appeal to Frankie anymore. As Frankie tries to put her new experiences into words, she hears a piano tuner trying out notes, trying to find the correct ones, just as Frankie is trying to find her true self. Frankie herself feels a “jazz sadness” inside herself; she is like the jazz horn she hears playing one night: “The tune was left broken. Unfinished.” But at the end of the story, Frankie hears the door bell, and she will open the door to finish her growing up.
Many things in The Member of the Wedding have three parts. A song has a beginning, middle, and end. Much of the dialogue takes place among three people—Frankie, Berenice, and John Henry—in the kitchen. Frankie imagines herself as the member of a trio that includes Jarvis, Janice, and herself. The book is divided into three parts and the action takes place over three days. Frankie herself undergoes three stages, the “old” Frankie becomes F. Jasmine and then Frances. The number three signifies belonging. Before Frankie became a member of the wedding, she felt alone, but then Jarvis and Janice became the “we” of “me” in her mind. That things have three parts also signifies the natural pattern of life: childhood, adolescence, adulthood.
Moths and Butterflies
Moths and butterflies appear as a motif. In several kitchen scenes, moths flock to the screen, beating themselves against it, longing for the light. Their frustrations mirror those of Frankie as she longs to have an identity but cannot quite pinpoint what it should be. Butterflies—beautiful, delicate, ephemeral—are often associated with John Henry, whose unique little life turns out to be fragile and short.