Reflections in a Golden Eye
Carson McCullers second novel opens like this:
An army post in peacetime is a dull place. Things happen, but then they happen over and over again. The general plan of a fort in itself adds to the monotony – the huge concrete barracks, the neat rows of officers’ homes built one precisely like the other, the gym, the chapel, the golf course and the swimming pools – all is designed according to a certain rigid pattern. But perhaps the dullness of the post is caused most of all by insularity and by a surfeit of leisure and safety, for once a man enters the army he is expected only to follow the heels ahead of him. At the same time things do occasionally happen on an army post that are not likely to re-occur. There is a fort in the South where a few years ago a murder was committed. The participants of this tragedy were: two officers, a soldier, two women, a Filipino, and a horse.
McCullers addresses many topics in this short novel. Homosexuality is high on the agenda, followed quickly by sadism and voyeurism. But the author is also enthralled by the outsider in society, and the fragility of normal conformity is a central theme.
Beautifully written, as you would expect from an author of McCullers’ status, the novel is sometimes referred to as Southern Gothic, and individual sentences stand out like stars in the night sky. There is little in the way of plot here, but an underlying nobility of spirit and an intensity of suspense and poetic expression which more than adequately carries the narrative.
Five people in a peace-time army camp are obsessed with each other, and yet each of them is alone in a private and impenetrable world.
In less than 125 pages we sit and watch their destinies unfold like the silent spectacle of a Greek drama.
‘Annacleto wouldn’t have been happy in the army, no, but it might have made a man of him. Would have knocked all the nonsense out of him anyway. But what I mean is that in a way it always seemed to me terrible for a grown man twenty-three years old to be dancing around to music and messing with water-colours. In the army they would have run him ragged and he would have been miserable, but even that seems to me better than the other.’
‘You mean,’ Captain Penderton said, ‘that any fulfilment obtained at the expense of normalcy is wrong and should not be allowed to bring happiness. In short, it is 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?’
‘Why, you put it exactly right,’ the Major said.