Part Two, 2., pp. 75-96
F. Jasmine is home about 2:00 that afternoon. Berenice and John Henry are in the kitchen, as usual; suddenly, the kitchen does not seem so dingy and old to F. Jasmine, now that she may never see it again. John Henry announces that, because his family must bury Uncle Charles the next day, he is staying with F. Jasmine and Berenice, and therefore he and Berenice will be going to the wedding with her. When F. Jasmine protests, Berenice calls her selfish. She also calls her “Frankie,” which F. jasmine does not appreciate.
She relates the story about the Monkey Man, the monkey, and the soldier, and Berenice asks if the soldier was drunk. This question makes F. Jasmine feel reticent about telling Berenice more about him; she is uneasy about him, but she is not sure why. Instead, she and Berenice argue about the wedding. Berenice tells her that the wedding couple will most certainly not allow her to go with them on their honeymoon or after. F. Jasmine chides Berenice for ironing the collar of her pink dress incorrectly; she lets it slip that she might be wearing it that evening. That leads Berenice to inquire where F. Jasmine has been all morning, and F. Jasmine tries to explain the connection she felt to others—except something warns her not to mention the soldier. Berenice calls her obsession with the wedding plain crazy.
The three have supper at four o’clock, “when the bars of sunlight crossed the backyard like the bars of a bright strange jail.” Berenice talks about peculiar things, and she says that she has never heard anything stranger than someone falling in love with a wedding. She concludes that what F. Jasmine really needs is a “‘beau. A nice little white boy beau.’” F. Jasmine thinks about the soldier. Berenice instructs F. Jasmine that beaus will pay her way, if she dates them.
As the three of them wind down their supper, F. Jasmine announces, “Now a funny thing has happened to me,” but before she can continue, she is distracted by someone tuning a piano in the neighborhood. It makes her “sad” and “jittery” at the same time. She wants to tell Berenice about the soldier, but she cannot seem to frame it right.
Berenice asks to see her new dress. She is shocked to see that F. Jasmine has bought an orange satin evening dress and silver slippers. Such grown up attire does not “go” with F. Jasmine’s chopped hair and dirty elbows. Berenice works on the dress to make it fit better, but she will not tell F. Jasmine what she wants to hear: that the dress is beautiful.
When Berenice gets a faraway look in her eye, remembering the past, F. Jasmine asks her about Ludie Freeman, the man she was married to in Cincinnati a long time ago, but who died. They talk about dead people they’ve known and about Berenice’s current beau, T.T., whom F. Jasmine thinks Berenice should marry. Berenice says he does not “make her shiver.”
F. Jasmine tells John Henry and Berenice that someday they may hear “them” speaking on the radio about their travels. Berenice thinks she means the three of them, but F. Jasmine thinks that thought is hilarious. She means herself, Jarvis, and Janice. But her mirth is cut short when she spies the clique of older girls walking across the yard. She wants to tell them about the wedding, thinking maybe it might make a difference with them, but quietly Berenice tells her, “‘Nothing, Curiosity. Curiosity, nothing.’” F. Jasmine does not follow them.
McCullers uses an analogy at the beginning of this section. The narrator says that “the afternoon was like the center of the cake that Berenice had baked last Monday, a cake which had failed” and that “It was a loaf cake, like last Monday, with the edges risen light and high and the middle moist and altogether fallen—after the bright, high morning the afternoon was dense and solid as the center of the cake.” This analogy captures Frankie’s feeling that, now her going away is imminent, nostalgia pulls at her, despite her excitement of the morning. This analogy complements the imagery McCullers uses throughout the novel to create an atmosphere of waiting, of suspense, before an event. In the heat of the afternoon, the kitchen windows are open, and through them come sounds: a vegetable vendor hawking his wares, a hammer pounding, and someone tuning a piano down the street. Like the cake, these layers of familiar sounds intertwine with the Southern meal Berenice serves the three of them—ham, hopping-john, cornbread—to create a feeling of density. Tradition pulls Frankie like the mud from a swamp, and she is caught between struggling to get out and submitting to its pull.
The dress, when she reveals it, shows how ill-equipped she is for the struggle to grow up and escape the pull of the familiar. It is a dress a grown woman might wear to a fancy gathering, but to Frankie, accustomed to wearing costumes and playing characters, it is perfect for F. Jasmine, the soon-to-be sophisticated world traveler. Berenice, however, can see that it is not suitable for a young lady, nor for a wedding. Although she speaks rather frankly and roughly to Frankie, it is clear she understands her, too. When the older girls cross the yard, she knows that Frankie is thinking that now she might join them, now that she is a member of the wedding. And she also knows that Frankie, in her heart, is not quite ready to join them.