In the short story "The Ballad of the Sad Café,"" Carson McCullers utilizes distortion of literary reality to impart her lessons and thoughts concerning love to the reader. McCullers usage of distortion ultimately moves the story from a simplistic narrative about social misfits to an allegory dealing with very complex and abstract emotions. Once the reader comes to realize the lessons embedded in McCullers' distorted characters and narration, it elicits a strong emotional response from him or her. .
The unidentified narrator somewhat haphazardly sets the story beginning in the relative present and frequently jumping back to points in the past past, relating the previous and present interactions between the three freakish main characters: the androgynous Miss Amelia, the manipulative hunchback Cousin Lymon, and the evil criminal Marvin Macy. McCullers' usage of social outcasts and her emphasis on their physical handicaps underscores their emotional deficiencies as the characters fall into a love triangle and each character shows their love for their respective beloved in awkward, childlike ways. McCullers also distorts time in the story; chronological order is thrown to the wind, and time often suspends in the story to accommodate the narrator's digressions on various topics. .
The distortion of the characters and the narrator that McCullers uses in her story elucidate their emotional defects, especially their misinterpretation of love. All three of the characters see love as something to coerce out of another person, a sense of personal satisfaction that can be bought with material goods. The characters in the story crave to love someone else but fear to be its recipient. Even the narrator, in one of his or her digressions, goes into depth about the loneliness of love. The narrator describes love as a selfish, horrible experience, detrimental to the parties involved and a cause of great pain and suffering.