The Heart is a Lonely Hunger by Carson McCullers

January 9, 2011
By ghkim BRONZE, Brea, California
ghkim BRONZE, Brea, California
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: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

Caution! This book will give readers an emotional punch. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers is a remarkable work of fiction. Published by Mariner (2000), this book follows the lives of people in a small town in the Southern United States, near the end of the Great Depression. This book mainly discusses the loneliness and harshness of people’s lives. The characters’ tragic struggles are realistic and emotional; their sadness and depression were almost overwhelming. However, I loved the writing, and the book “got” me.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter introduces the stories of five characters’ lives of desperation, all longing for escape, fulfillment, love, or betterment. What ties them together is John Singer, a mute, whom the other four characters are drawn to. Set in a town in Georgia, the third person perspective relates the characters are going through over a year. The story opens with a description of two deaf-mutes who share an apartment in the town. One of them is Spiros Antonapoulus, a large Greek who is very slow mentally and works in his cousin’s candy store and helps himself to frequent “tidbits” if not carefully watched. The other mute is John Singer, the brighter of the too, who is a silver smith and engraver and also looks after Spiros. The plot begins when John Singer moves into the Mick Kelly’s house after Spiros is institutionalized. John Singer is isolated from ordinary human emotions by his deaf mute condition to such a degree that the death of his friend Spiros ultimately causes him to commit suicide. Though Singer is important to all the others, their stories are critical. They all have voices and hearing but fail to communicate to any degree that would ease their isolation. Mick Kelly is only 14, just ready to enter high school. She is a free spirit in love with music and without any close friends though she talks to Singer frequently. Mick has energy and drive, but her tragedy in the novel is caused by the society she is part of. That society steals away her energy and, in a vicious kind of way, steals her freedom to “pursue happiness” in music. Jake Blount, on the other hand, struggles as a kind of revolutionary. He wants to change the social conditions that allow powerful social forces to prey on individuals. Jake Blount comes into town, to go on drunken sprees. Though he does not get violent, he certainly is never sober. Dr. Copeland is an educated black man who tries to take care of the Negro community. To him, the mute seems to be the embodiment of the “control and asceticism of a certain type of white man.” All of his life Dr. Copeland has suffered slights and humiliations from the white race despite his training and knowledge. Of the four people who revolve around the mute, Biff Brannon is the most disinterested. It is typical of him that he is always the observer. Thus, he is an outsider because of his nature and inclination. He is aware of the consequences of his choices and accepts them. His problem is to resolve the main outlines of a situation from all the cluttered details in his mind, and he goes about this with his own painstaking patience. The characters come together and move away again as their stories are told.
Even though The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter describes five characters’ lives, the book is not about any of the characters, but rather the condition of the South during the depression and the social ills of the Great Depression time. The book deals with inequality and the “moral isolation” of the lives that make up the novel. The town in which the characters reside is as much a major force in the novel as the people are. Most inhabitants have been conditioned to accept their poverty. They make no effort to change their circumstances. The book’s title indicates the characters’ condition and the emotional tenor of the novel. Few ever consider why they are poor and or unemployed and do nothing to change their state though they resent it greatly. Their resentment is taken out on the Negroes, members of the only social group below them. Singer, for instance, is in great despair and pain having lost his beloved friend. However he has no way to voice those feelings, remaining “locked in a cell” in a figurative sense. His inability to communicate is physical, but it underscores the entire human condition. We are all isolated in a virtual sense in our failure to communicate well, effectively, or even truthfully our feelings and motivations to others. Mick and Harry’s inability to overcome their insecurities and biases, Spiros’s ill treatment in the asylum, the treatment of Dr. Copeland and Willie for their race, and Biff’s inability to feel anything deeply all illustrate how people often are isolated from others (or a society), due to their frustration when they have no one to share their feelings and thoughts with. It's rare to find someone who can truly understand his own feelings completely or someone who can assure another that he or she is not alone in his or her feelings and thoughts. This book provides the readers the confidence and courage to confront the issues that make them separated from others (or a society).
One of the readers of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter said, “Just read the first couple of paragraphs and you'll begin to see that this book is a journey that you've never taken but won't regret and probably will never forget.” – Greg A. The readers will find their own stories in those of these characters. I would call this wonderful text a documentary rather than fiction because of its realistic description. I recommend this book to anyone who wants his complacency challenged and is interested in the human moral condition, a condition that is singularly isolated from that of others.

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