Tomboyism and Familial Belonging in Carson McCullers’s <em>The Member of the Wedding</em>: Queer Sentiments

  • Kristen B. Proehl
Keywords: gender, queer, girlhood, sentimentalism, tomboyism, Southern Gothic


This article brings queer-theoretical scholarship on the Southern Gothic into dialogue with the history of childhood and sentimental studies. Published in 1946, Carson McCullers’s The Member of the Wedding introduces readers to Frankie Addams, an awkward, unruly adolescent protagonist who resists the rigid gender and sexual norms of early twentieth-century Southern United States. While McCullers’s writing is often characterized as “Gothic” and “unsentimental,” this paper argues that her tomboy narrative invokes and revises the sentimental Bildungsroman of the mid-nineteenth century. Specifically, McCullers draws upon sentimental tropes of non-traditional families as she reimagines Frankie’s “family.” Like many sentimental child protagonists, Frankie endures the early fracturing of her nuclear family due to the death of her mother but forges a surrogate family with her African American housekeeper, Berenice Sadie Brown, and her cousin, John Henry West. Through her juxtaposition of queer children and non-normative families, McCullers critiques heteronormative institutions and rituals, meditates upon issues of membership in the body politic, and demonstrates how sentimentalism crystallizes persistently around the intersections of race, girlhood, and the family.


DOI: 10.1353/jeu.2015.0002

Author Biography

Kristen B. Proehl

Kristen B. Proehl is an Assistant Professor of English at SUNY–Brockport, where she teaches courses in children’s and young adult literature. Her recent scholarship on Louisa May Alcott’s work appears in Romantic Education in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (Routledge, 2014) and in Sentimentalism in Nineteenth-Century America (Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2014). She is currently revising her book manuscript, Battling Girlhood: Sympathy, Social Justice, and the Tomboy Figure in American Literature.

How to Cite
Proehl, K. B. (2015). Tomboyism and Familial Belonging in Carson McCullers’s <em>The Member of the Wedding</em&gt;: Queer Sentiments. Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures, 7(1). Retrieved from