The Ballad of the Sad Café
The Ballad of the Sad Café is a novella by Carson McCullers.
The Ballad of the Sad Cafe opens in a small, isolated Georgia town. The story introduces Miss Amelia Evans, a strong character of both body and mind, who is approached by a hunchbacked man with only a suitcase in hand who claims to be of kin.
When Miss Amelia, whom the townspeople see as a calculating woman who never acts without reason, takes the stranger into her home, rumors begin to circulate that Miss Amelia has only done so to take what the hunchback had in his suitcase. When the rumors hit their peak, a group of eight men come to her store, sitting outside on the steps for the day and waiting to see if something would happen.
Finally, they enter the store all at once and are stunned to see that the hunchback is actually alive and well. With everyone gathered inside, Miss Amelia brings out some liquor and crackers in hospitality, which further shocks the men, as they have never witnessed Miss Amelia be hospitable enough to allow drinking inside her home. This is essentially the beginning of the café. Miss Amelia and the hunchback, Cousin Lymon, unintentionally create a new tradition for the town, and the people gather inside at the café on Sunday evenings often until midnight.
It is apparent, though surprising, to the townspeople that Miss Amelia has fallen in love with Cousin Lymon, and has begun to change slightly as time progresses. When the townspeople see this, they relate it to another odd incident in which Miss Amelia was also involved: the issue of her ten-day marriage.
Miss Amelia had been married to a man named Marvin Macy, who was a vicious and cruel character before meeting and falling in love with her. He changed his ways and became good-natured, but reverted back to his old self when his love was rejected after a failed ten-day marriage in which he gave up everything he possessed in hopes of having her return his affections. He broke out into a rage, committing a string of felonies before being caught and locked up in the state penitentiary.
When he was released, he returned to the town with the full intention of ruining Miss Amelia's life the way she ruined his. Upon his return, he takes advantage of Cousin Lymon's admiration for him, as he views Macy as a true man, and uses him to crush Miss Amelia's heart, ransack the café, steal her curios and money, and leave Miss Amelia alone by taking Cousin Lymon along with him as he disappears from town.
The novella ends with The Twelve Mortal Men, which is a brief passage of twelve men in a chain-gang, whose actions outline that of what happened in the lonely rural town, and highlights the themes of loneliness and isolation.
Characters as Archetypes of Greek Mythology 
Many of the characters in this novella can be easily seen as respresentative of Greek gods and goddesses. Lymon as Hephaestus, and Amelia as Athena. Notice his dwarfish appearance, her virginal status and grey eyes. Also note that in the Greek myth they are vaguely also cousins. Zeus and Hera are brother and sister. This also plays into the idea that the gods never partake in a story involving these two.
Gender roles 
Gender roles play a big part in terms of the story. Throughout the book, McCullers tries to get the reader to question masculinity and femininity. The most obvious example of different gender roles is through Amelia and Cousin Lymon. Instead of reinforcing masculine and feminine gender roles, Amelia and Cousin Lymon’s roles are reversed. Amelia exhibits more masculine traits—in appearance and in her actions—and Cousin Lymon is more feminine. Marvin has conflicting gender roles as well, although his are less discrete. Gender roles also play a large part in how the characters are seen by the community. Marvin is consistently regarded as handsome, powerful, and malicious, while Cousin Lymon is seen as bothersome and a gossip. Amelia is a special case, however, because she asserts her independence and is actually accepted by the community. It is important to consider how gender roles fit into the story in order to understand the overall theme of love.
Isolation and loneliness 
The town plays a crucial role in the novella, setting the mood for the following scenes and even foreshadowing the fate of the characters. At first when Ms. Amelia falls in love with Lymon she is very happy but when he leaves she becomes a sad and lonely hermit.
Love and marriage 
Love is really the central theme of the novella. All of the characters have the experience of being the lover and the beloved; it is all very circular. First, Marvin loves Amelia, and in turns the love changes him into a kinder, more gentle person. When Amelia does not love him back he goes into a rage and becomes a lazy, angry person. Amelia, on the other hand, loves Cousin Lymon, who teaches her how to love just like she taught Marvin. Completing the circle, Cousin Lymon loves Marvin. While all of the characters experience love of some sort, the story is really tragic after all because no one actually succeeds at loving or being loved in return. Ultimately the novel represents "the impossibility of reciprocal love, the sadness of a world in which growing up means only learning that isolation is the lot of everyone" This novella, although mainly about sexual confusion and frustrated love, has a deeper aspect to it. McCullers depicts the material world as a place of infinite conflict and invalidity. The "coda" at the novella's conclusion asserts little good can come from the experience of material life, that nothing here has grown, and that nothing ever could.
- Fielder, Leslie A. (1998). Love and Death in the American Novel. Dalky Archive Press. p. 479.