Reflections in a Golden Eye Carson McCullers

Reflections in a Golden Eye is a chilling portrait of six people who make varying degrees of individual claims to identity and individual belong. Romantic imaginative repressed characters experience tragedies because of sensual, self-centered, conforming characters. It is a novel about the fragility of normalcy.

The setting is that of an army post — a rigid world lacking individuality. The caged individuals are Captain Penderton, impotent, uncomfortable with traditional gender roles and not in control of his own actions; the repressed and rejected Alison Langdon; and Anacleto, her artistic Filipino houseboy. They all suffer from moral isolation and act in discord with their desires. The other characters have a weaker sense of individual identity, and less of a problem conforming. Major Morris Penderton refuses to accept that what is not according to the structure of the army post — masculinity, stoicism, order and conformity. Leonora Penderton represents the Freudian id — she fulfills her primal desires with little inhibitions¬†and does not have an imagination.

Then there is Private Williams, the beautiful boy of nature, the Gauguin-like primitif. He gets predictably murdered at the end of the story (the story is also a strange murder mystery where the murder doesn’t happen until the end and it doesn’t become clear until then who the murderer is).

With the first establishment of identity comes the imperative need to lose this sense of separateness and to belong to something larger and more powerful than the weak, lonely self. The central question in this story is whether fulfilment obtained at the expense of normalcy is wrong? Whether such fulfilment should not be allowed to bring happiness? As McCullers puts it in a conversation between Captain Penderton and Major Langdon,

Is it better, because it is morally honourable, for the square peg to keep scraping about the round hole rather than to discover and use the unorthodox square that would fit it?

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