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[222] The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers


“How Singer had been before was not important. The thing that mattered was the way Blount and Mick made of him a sort of home-made God. Owing to the fact that he was a mute they were able to give him all the qualities they wanted him to have.” [232]

In was 1938. In a Georgia mill town, John Singer and Spiros Antonapoulos are two mutes who have no other friends, and except when they work they are alone together. After Antonapoulos is sent to the asylum for public indecency, Singer takes up a room at a boarding house owned by the Kellys. Three times a day the deaf man eats at New York Cafe, where he befriends the owner Biff Brannon, who later becomes a widower; Mick Kellys, a 12-year-old girl who aspires to be a musician; Dr. Benedict Copeland, the idealistic African-American doctor who is estranged from his family because he denounces God; and Jake Blount, an alcoholic agitator who hopes the working class will understand that they have been oppressed and need to fight for their rights.

Mister Singer was different from any other man, and at times like this it would be better if other people would let him manage. He had more sense and he knew things that ordinary people couldn’t know. [179]

For almost a year these neighborhood acquaintances have paid visits to the deaf man on a regular basis. Not only have their company taken Singer’s mind off his loneliness in Antonapoulos’s absence, his inability to respond to their pleas gives these people a sense of trust that they can confide in him even issues so sensitive as racial inequality and injustice. For example, Dr. Copeland, stricken with consumption, cannot be treated at a good hospital because he is black. Jake Blount risks his life breaking up racial riot at Dixie Show. Whereas religion has reduced to a self-delusion, all four people feel compelled to establish some guiding principle or God. That John Singer has embodied their hopes, along with his blank-state quality and a quiet understatement, has rendered him a quasi-God figure—one that both inspires and comforts. For the deaf man, who does not possess the insolence of all the white race, has come to stand for all that these characters believe in their own minds.

By midsummer Singer had visitors more often any other person in the house. From his room in the evening there was nearly always the sound of a voice . . . There was truly none of the quiet insolence about this (white) man. [90-91]

In The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers, with her keen observation and senses, has risen above the tension of her time and milieu to embrace black and white humanity. The writing captures a feeling so tense as conspiracy and menacing or as the deadly quiet before a catastrophe, like a racial clash and violence described in few occasions in the book. McCullers has lent a voice for those who are forgotten, oppressed, rejected, and exploited. In narrating the struggles and enunciating their profound loneliness she has not only communicated their feelings but also gives them dignity.

359 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] McCullers wrote this American classics when she was only twenty-three. Richard Wright was astonished by her ability “to rise above the pressures of her environment and embrace humanity in one sweep of apprehension and tenderness.” This is her first novel and surely will not be my last reading of hers.

37 Responses

  1. This one has been sitting on my bookshelf for years. You’ve made me dust it off and put it into my read pile for this year!

  2. This book was featured on one of my all-time favorite person’s top 10 books of all time that I featured on my blog. I need to get to it. I know it will blow me away!

  3. I read this book several years ago and loved it. I think I’m due for a reread. 🙂

  4. hmmmm I’m sure it will be a nice read. The mention of racial tension reminds me of To Kill a Mockingbird. Have you read it? That one uses the innocence of young minds as a platform (or backdrop) to explore the then controversial themes (like here it seems the innocence of muteness serves the same purpose).

  5. i keep seeing this on the shelves of my favorite bookstores and i keep meaning to go buy it. and now i think i will have to.

  6. sounds great. i plan to read this next year, plus her other books as well.

  7. Oh I have this on my TBR and am so pleased that you enjoyed it so as having read nothing by her before and buying it as a slight rogue charity shop choice have been unsure what would make of it.

  8. This is waiting on my shelf, too. From your review, it sounds like I shouldn’t keep it waiting there much longer!

  9. I read this about 100 years ago (in high school or junior high). I loved this book. I remember being so moved by it.

  10. I had no idea she was so young when she wrote this! I read The Member of the Wedding a few years back, and wasn’t crazy about it, but this sounds really good. Maybe I will try again…

  11. You know, I think I was too young the first time I read this…might be time to put it back into the rotation. Thanks for the review!

  12. I loved this book when I read it a few years back. My review is here:

    I think the most staggering thing about this book is that she wrote it when she was just 23 years old.

  13. Hi Matt,

    Your blog has been nominated for a BBAW (Book Blogger Appreciation Week) award, and we need to send you some info related to that. Please reply to this comment via e-mail to 3.rsblog AT Gmail DOT com (TODAY if possible), so we’ll have your contact info and can follow up on your nomination.


    for the BBAW Awards

  14. I read this way back in H.S. but I think I was too young and immature to appreciate it. I’ll have to give a re-read. Insightful review as always Matt.

  15. Wow – sounds like something I need to pick up.

  16. I’ve read this book twice and didn’t much care for it (although it’s well written) either time. Maybe because I’ve read it from the perspective of being hearing-impaired myself. I should re-read it again to see if I can see it from your point of view :-).

  17. Staci:
    It’s a very touching, good read, but sad.

  18. Sandy:
    I think I’ll have to reshuffle my Top 10 and put this one up now. I can understand why this is an America classics, because as a white, young female (she was only 23), McCullers has elevated herself above the social and racial conflict between the blacks and whites in order to write a book that documents the struggle.

  19. Amy @ My Friend Amy:
    I have a “re-read” shelf and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is surely one of those re-read books! 🙂

  20. rhodoraonline:
    To Kill a Mockingbird popped up in my mind in the middle of reading The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. How do you compare the treatment of racial inequity between the two novels? To Kill a Mocingbird is more in your face as it cut out this court case nobody think would win.

  21. lena:
    It’s a bit sad but the portrayal of ethnic struggle is just amazing.

  22. claire:
    I have bought her other books after I started reading The Heart of a Lonely Hunter. She is a very observant writer, who nails individual’s trouble and struggle.

  23. savidgereads:
    It’s a sad book but for what she describes and tries to accomplish, which is the racial inequity and struggle, she has outshone many of her contemporaries, white and black.

  24. JoAnn:
    Once again we have similar reading taste. I highly recommend it and am sure you’ll appreciate the book. 🙂

  25. Beth F:
    This book puts me in tears. It’s well written and touching.

  26. Jenny:
    I think she was known for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I also buy a collection of short stories called Sweet as Salmon and Clean as a Pig.

  27. Rebecca @ The Book Lady’s Blog:
    The Heart is a Lonely Hunter would be too grim and it’s scope a bit far-fetched for a young, flighty reader. I think it’s a piece of American social history told in a fictional form.

  28. kimbofo:
    McCullers really saw through the people and their struggle, didn’t she?

  29. Florinda:
    Thank you so much. I apologize for my being delinquent in responding to comments since I have been out of town for so long. I’m so honored that it’s being considered for a nomination. 🙂

  30. Jennygirl:
    Although it’s an American classic, up along with To Kill a Mockingbird, the book is too grim for high school readers. I have the feeling that I will keep finding my way back to this touching novel.

  31. justicejenniferreads:
    I’m excited this book makes so much noise in the book blogging community. 🙂

  32. Valerie:
    I thought the beginning of the story was a bit hard going because McCullers introduced her characters (neighbors) one by one and I didn’t their immediate connection to one another. But as they begin to cross paths, thank to the deaf-mute man, they lives foray together.

  33. i listened to this one as an audio book and loved it.

    i’m new to your blog (made my way over from meg’s blog) and must say that your reviews are very well written and visually interesting!

  34. nat @ book, line, and sinker:
    It makes my day to hear from new readers who take time to comment. Thank you! I plan to re-read To Kill a Mockingbird, then come back and listen to the audio of this book. They seem to be intricately correlated to me.

  35. […] [222] The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers […]

  36. […] the saddest book you’ve read recently? Judging by the title alone, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers does not spell an upbeat mood. The loneliness of the characters pervades the […]

  37. […] A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook – “McCullers has lent a voice for those who are forgotten, oppressed, rejected, and exploited. In narrating the struggles and enunciating their profound loneliness she has not only communicated their feelings but also gives them dignity.” […]

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