Olta Totoni is a professor of the English Language at the University of Tirana. She studied British and American Studies at the Faculty of Foreign Languages. She is specialized in Intercultural Language and Communication. She is a writer of short stories. Some of her short stories are “Spider Letters” , “The Raven”, “The Storm”, “Dear Centaur”, “The House of the Artist”, “Stockholm’s Syndrome” etc. She has written many articles related to political science and most of them have to do with the British and American studies. Her articles are published in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia etc. She is an Ambassador for Peace. She is the Secretary General for HWPL Peace Committee in Albania.
AN OVERVIEW ON THE AMERICAN WRITER
CARSON McCULLERS’ NOVELS
Who am I? What is the role of my existence in the society? Why are we passengers in this life? These are some important questions which we encounter everyday and we try to find the answers. We are aware of the fact that we cannot find the solution to every question that arouses but we can understand and identify with people that are in the same situations with us.
One of the characters of the Member of the Wedding Frankie Addams would say “You are the we of me”. It doesn’t matter if we are isolated, we always think in terms of our relations with the society and others. We, like the characters of McCullers are in conflict with ourselves and the world which surrounds us. We mentioned the conflicted and the conflict exists inside us. To clarify this we can mention the fact that all what happens in McCullers work is inside the characters. They think, they imagine, they behave and all of this comes out from inside to outside in a specified direction. They have instincts and intuition.
McCullers writes about the freak people and she sometimes uses irony and grotesque in her novels. The combination she provides between the identity and being freak is really a strong combination. In fact she chose to write about these characters. They were bizarre, alienated characters that did strange actions in different situations. She chose such kind of characters just to point out the alienation that surrounded the USA at that period of time.
She said,- "All men are lonely. But sometimes it seems to me that we Americans are the loneliest of all. Our hunger for foreign places and new ways has been with us almost like a national disease. Our literature is stamped with a quality of longing and unrest, and our writers have been great wanderers”.
She improvised and she put her characters in a world of illusions and dreams where they could do what they wanted, they could be with whom they wanted. Her fiction was made of dreamers and loners. She said,- “There's nothing that makes you so aware of the improvisation of human existence as a song unfinished. Or an old address book”. We can notice that she mentions this fact and we can understand that it is so difficult to provide to comment on the human existence. It is like “a song unfinished” or “old address book”. You can write about it but never go until the end. It is unpredictable because a certain character can be unpredictable. Their actions are unpredictable. Let’s consider what Frankie did. She was only a 12 years old. Sometimes, she smoked. She got the pistol and wanted to escape. She was a grown up adult. It is a bit unbelievable that a 12 year old child would act like this. McCullers was clear in what she wanted to convey.
We mentioned above that her characters were loners. In her fiction loneliness played an important role and she mentions it throughout her novel. We are born alone and we will die alone. Her characters want to escape from this loneliness and they try different ways to escape. For example Frankie in the Member of the Wedding wanted to follow the newly-married couple. She didn’t want to be alone inside those dark walls of her house. She was disturbed by this loneliness as it was something that she herself felt. She creates adolescent female characters just to show the fact that they want to know their role in society who they are and what their identity is. She introduces us with those characters that lack energy and they have got some more years on their shoulders even though they are young.
The idea of making the freaks part of her fiction is quite important. Freaks are those excluded from the society. Carson McCullers makes use of them, she makes use of their weakest points to express what she wants and convey the message. We can mention here the fact that she choose in the novel “The heart is a lonely hunter” a mute person. He is disabled but his silence speaks more than words. These characters are Southern freaks. Those freaks are peculiar and unusual. They fail to understand and we also fail to understand. McCullers helps us by putting the lens. They help us see magnified the situation in which the characters what they do and how do they react in particular situations.
Ellen Moers and Leslie Fiedler criticized the McCullers’s fiction. Moers discussed the nature of form in McCullers's fiction, particularly the modern female gothic. She asserts that "McCullers cloaks with humorous tenderness her unsentimental perception of the freakish self as originating in female adolescence. McCullers is at her best with creatures poised on a sharp, thin line between opposites: of sex, of race, of age" (108). Moers places her within the context of the Southern American gothic, of which William Faulkner is undeniably most well-known, yet she also claims the importance of the feminine theme in McCullers' works, outlining some early feminist theory ideas.
Fiedler discussed about the dilemma of the despair in the world of the freak in fiction. He analyzed the images of alienation, isolation and fear in American novels. Fiedler locates McCullers more generally within "the homosexual-gothic novelists," whom he defines according to their "homosexual sensibility" in the figure of the adolescent. He argues that McCullers's adolescents, "like the circus freaks, the deaf and the dumb," serve as a symbol not only of innocence but also of exclusion: "They project the inverts exclusion from the family, his sense of heterosexual passion as a threat and an offence; and this awareness is easily translated into the child's bafflement before weddings or honeymoons or copulation itself. The more recent criticism goes further in considering the constant interaction of the masculine and feminine, for example, which lies at the basis of the grotesque in McCullers's texts.
McCullers wrote for modern readers who lived in a modern society and they knew how to interpret her fiction. The understanding of her work is related also to the American society which is the main inspiration for McCullers. She lived in the contemporary America and she knew the main concerns of this society. One of them was to establish the new identity as far as it was a new country compared with the other countries of the world. Even her adolescent characters wanted to find their identity in the society. They were in a continuous war with themselves.
The simplicity of McCullers’ fiction.
Why did McCullers choose only female characters? Why did she describe them in details?
Actually McCullers was a woman herself. She couldn’t choose masculine characters to express her own thought, even though her characters are a blend of masculine and female features. Characters like Frankie, Mick or Berenice are her voice in the fiction whereas the masculine characters are in the background. For example the father of Frankie appears only in the second part of the novel or John Henry he occasionally accompanies Frankie in her loneliness but he doesn’t make her confess. He cannot understand her.
The situations in Carson McCullers are like the photos. The image in the photo is standing still. Even the characters in the photo are standing still. The colors of photo are black and white. What mostly dominates is the darkness. The characters like the darkness. There are only some beautiful moments where the photos change from black and white and they have colors. Most of the times the characters have darks thought and they see the world as cracked. Another feature of the photos is that they are silent. The characters live this silence when they are isolated and alienated. They experience the concrete silence which later it turns into an abstract silence.
McCullers novels can be characterized as simple. There is a lack of complexity. They have reminiscent poetic style. Love is for her the only force that can change everything. According to her:
“First of all, love is a joint experience between two persons — but the fact that it 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 had 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.
Carson McCullers has a specific style. She does not convey the ideas directly but she firstly hints the facts. The themes she treats are not directly given. You have to read more about the characters, their situation in order to understand them. Sometimes, you do not need any effort to comprehend because the ideas are emphasized and they are ready- made for you. We do not have only the power of the words but also the power of music. Carson McCullers has a distinguished style of writing because she does not possess only the art of writing but also the music related terms.