other as confirmations of an essential and corresponding gender. Following Butler, thatAmelia is
a man, is premised on the culturally informed presupposition that she is
man. “Man” being introduced through a simile here
forecloses any possibility that MissAmelia
a man. If Amelia deviates from an idealized femininity in every performative andmorphological marker except her differentiating anatomy, then for notions of essential genderto hold, this anatomy is to be the matrix of her ontology; her sexed reality. But the anatomicaldifference is precisely what remains private, unseen. In that there is an awareness that this
” is what notions of fixed gender take as the determinant of “reality”, McCullersgestures towards an ambiguity even around Amelia’s this anatomy:
There was not a grain of modesty about Miss Amelia, and she frequently seemed to forgetaltogether that there were men in the room. Now as she stood warming herself, her red dress waspulled up quite high in the back so that a piece of her strong, hairy thigh could be seen by anyonewho cared to look at it. (McCullers, 71)
The red dress (the only visible
marker of femininity in this passage) is “pulled up quitehigh”. The dress then is revealing but also reveal
; it is not the outward sign (the dress)which draws us in, but what lies beneath it. The hairy thigh gestures towards perhaps even ananatomical ambiguity.
This ambiguity is felt again in the “unholy” unconsummated marriage
between Amelia and Marvin Macy; they never have sexual relations. The morphologicalpossibilities are suspended
, even in “private”,
both for the reader and for
A “reality” of Miss Amelia is never offered
; it is precisely that whichcan
be seen by anyone who cares to look at it. As Clare Whatling perceptively notes,
in Amelia is an objective display of masculine style. What we
isthe translation of behaviour into morphology. The story plays on this ambiguity but gives noanswer.
; emphasis Whatling’s).
Through the troubling of these binary categories this
idea of gender “reality” is itself brought into crisis.
To move to the image of the red dress
the only visible token of femininity
theinclusion and position of this gender token is important.
McCullers’ introduction of Miss
Amelia had brought the notion of a gendered ontology into a space where it is placed inconsciousness rather than as a presupposition (she is like a man, and therefore not a man).The culturally supposed
of Miss Amelia’s gender is that
she is a woman; yet, thelanguage used to describe any manifestations of femininity (in this case, wearing a dress) isdeployed in a way that resonates a kind of drag performance which conflicts with notions of essential gender. Where
displays of masculinity work toward Miss Amelia’s refusal
aligning herself with an “appropriate” gender,
then her performance of femininity becomes just as disruptive. It emphasises the impossibility of ever approximating ideal norms of femininity. If we consider Amelia as a
are confronted with a kind of “womandressing as a woman”.
The red dress in this passage she which begins to wear on Sundays is
described as “[hanging] on her in a most peculiar fashion” (31).
Her wedding dress is
described as “yellow satin and at least twelve inches too short for her” (37).
These dresses,these signals of femininity, cover
in an almost comedic way Miss Amelia’s tall, muscular frame and her “hair
” body beneath.
If the figure of Miss Amelia shows that gender is not
, she also shows throughher relationships with the two other central figures, Marvin Macy and Cousin Lymon, that itis not
. Through her relationship with Lymon she becomes more feminized to an extent,appearing to take on a mothering role. The narrator tells us tha
t “[Miss Amelia’s] manners…and her way of life were greatly changed” (31).
Joseph Millichap notes this dynamic of
mother and child between Miss Amelia and Cousin Lymon. He suggests that “[Lymon] is aman loved without sex, a child acquired without pain” (
335). Lymon, after all, claims an