The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

by Carson McCullers

Paperback, 2000

Call number




Mariner Books (2000), Edition: Trade Paperback Edition, 359 pages


Story centers around a deaf-mute in a southern town, who, because of his affliction, must "listen" and so receives the confidences of many.

Media reviews

No matter what the age of its author, "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" would be a remarkable book. When one reads that Carson McCullers is a girl of 22 it becomes more than that. Maturity does not cover the quality of her work. It is something beyond that, somthing more akin to the vocation of pain
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to which a great poet is born. Reading her, one feels this girl is wrapped in knowledge which has roots beyond the span of her life and her experience. How else can she so surely plumb the hearts of characters as strange and, under the force of her creative shaping, as real as she presents—two deaf mutes, a ranting, rebellious drunkard, a Negro torn from his faith and lost in his frustrated dream of equality, a restaurant owner bewildered by his emotions, a girl of 13 caught between the world of people and the world of shadows.

Carson McCullers is a full-fledged novelist whatever her age. She writes with a sweep and certainty that are overwhelming. "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" is a first novel. One anticipates the second with something like fear. So high is the standard she has set. It doesn't seem possible that she can reach it again.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member kidzdoc
Carson McCullers was given the name Eula Carson Smith when she was born in Columbus, Georgia in 1917. She was a promising pianist, a good student and a voracious reader as a child, and she intended to study piano at Juillard. However, she lost the money her family gave her for tuition to attend
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Juillard during her travel from Savannah to New York in 1934. She took on a series of odd jobs for the two years that she lived in NYC, while studying literature at Columbia and NYU. She decided to become a writer in 1936, after the successful publication of an autobiographical work, and began to write her debut novel, "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter", that same year. She returned home to Georgia, married Reeves McCullers in 1937, and moved with him to Charlotte, North Carolina.

McCullers contracted rheumatic fever at the age of 15, which was misdiagnosed and untreated by doctors in Columbus. As a result, she suffered a series of strokes that began in her mid 20s, which led to paralysis of the left side of her body at the age of 31, and her ultimate death in 1967, due to a massive cerebral hemorrhage. Her adult life was characterized by chronic pain, alcoholism, and depression; however, she persevered through it all, as she wrote five novels and maintained an active social life despite her disability.

"The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter", McCullers's debut novel, was completed in 1939 and published in 1940. The setting is a small Southern mill town in the late 1930s that is beset by poverty and extreme socioeconomic differences, with poor whites working and living nearby poorer black residents, as wealthy whites lived far above both groups.

The central character, John Singer, is a deaf mute that works in a watch factory and lives in a rooming house in town. His roommate is another deaf mute, a portly Greek who Singer adores as a dear friend despite their obvious differences. The Greek leaves town, and Singer begins to frequent a local 24 hour restaurant, where he meets the owner (Biff Brannon), an introspective man who observes the characters that frequent the absurdly named New York Café; a traveling itinerant worker (Jake Blount), who seeks to unite poor working men against wealthy capitalists; and a spirited teenage girl, Mick Kelly, a tomboy who fervently desires to becomes a successful concert pianist. He also meets and befriends Dr. Benedict Copeland, a black doctor who ministers to the poor black residents of the city while suffering from the torments of racism and the failure of his children to reach the lofty goals he has set for them.

Despite his limited ability to communicate, Singer is loved and deeply respected by these characters and others that he meets in town, due to his sensitivity and impartiality. However, he is a deeply lonely man who longs for the company and understanding of his troubled friend. The other characters are also lonely and misunderstood, as they can communicate with and make their feelings and desires known through “conversations” with Singer, yet they are unable to relate to anyone else around them.

“The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” is an astonishing achievement for any writer, but McCullers’s tender age makes this novel that much more remarkable. The characters are amongst the most memorable and affecting of any book that I’ve ever read, and McCullers covers a variety of topics with deep insight and sensitivity, including racism, poverty, capitalism, socialism, loneliness, and the misfit in society. I cannot praise or recommend this book highly enough, and I look forward to reading it again in the near future.
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LibraryThing member richardderus
Wonderful, essential, exciting, and necessary.
LibraryThing member AlisonY
I'm dumbfounded that this book was written by a 23 year old. It seems incomprehensible that someone so young could lay bare the truth of life for what it really is for so many people, peeling back the layers of the human soul like an onion until all that is found at it's centre is labour and
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It is this sense of truth that makes this novel so compelling. McCullers takes human emotions to another dimension, slowly chipping away at the facades of her characters until finally the ice breaks and we're staring into the dark depths of their very souls.

The novel is written around five key characters, each fighting their own personal and social battles but bound by the common cords of loneliness, a search for truth, and ultimately shattered dreams.

There is Blount, the drunk stranger in town who's consistently angry and frustrated that he cannot get the truth of the evils of capitalism understood by enough people to make a difference. Dr. Copeland, the black doctor, is driven so fervently by his perpetual anger at the injustice of the treatment of coloured people by whites that he cannot get past his own children's passive acceptance of their degraded position in society. Mick, a young teenage girl from an impoverished family has an energised hunger for a life on a higher plain dominated by music, but cannot escape the realities of being cornered by the reality of her family's economic position. Biff, the enigmatic restaurant owner, quietly observes and tries to unravel the puzzle of the others, whilst his own personal life is complicated, unsatiated and compartmentalised. Finally, there is Mr. Singer, the deaf mute who underpins the other four. Patient and non-judgemental, the other characters and town at large are drawn to his quiet understanding and thoughtfulness, concluding that because he cannot answer them he must be of one mind with them. It is sadly ironic that despite becoming the most loved and trusted of all the characters, he is the most profoundly lonely, with others seeking continually self-solace from him without ever once considering if they bring anything to him.

It is impossible not to be touched by this book. Despite being a little slow in places, it silently creeps over you, and by the end you feel as if someone has removed the blinkers and you're squinting at the world in a whole new light.

Having said that, it's not necessarily going to be a personal favourite, but it's sheer literary brilliance is of much more importance than my personal preferences.

4.5 stars for an unrivalled truthful examination of human nature.
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LibraryThing member gbill
From the back cover: “At its center is the deaf-mute John Singer, who becomes the confidant for various misfits in a southern mill town during the 1930’s. Each one yearns for escape from small-town life. When Singer’s mute companion goes insane, Singer moves into the Kelly house, where Mick
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Kelly, the book’s heroine (loosely based on McCullers), finds solace in her music. Brilliantly attuned to spiritual isolation that underlies the human condition, and with a deft sense for racial tensions in the South, McCullers spins a haunting, unforgettable story that gives voice to the rejected, the forgotten, and the mistreated – and through Mick Kelly, to the quiet, intensely personal search for beauty.”

I find there is quite a bit of commentary about the novel being about loneliness, and it’s true. Singer longs to be with his friend and fellow deaf-mute again. Doctor Copeland longs to lead his fellow African-Americans out of the darkness, and while having their best intentions always in mind, is stiff and cannot connect personally to them. Jake Blount feels oneness with all races and longs to tell others the truth about capitalism and affect change, but cannot control his alcoholism. Biff impassively looks on at the customers in his café and begins to feel attraction for Mick, someone he can never have legally or morally, and in addition to that, because she dislikes him. Mick and the others are all drawn to Singer, imagining him to have qualities he doesn’t, simply because he listens and is good-natured. There is indeed real loneliness here.

However, I think the novel is more about being poor, and I think McCullers did several brilliant things in her debut novel. The first was in all of her small observations about what the conditions of poverty will have people do – the novel is full of these genuine, authentic touches. She’s also quite good at understanding the psychology of her characters. I found her understanding of older men to be remarkable, particularly as she was a 23-year-old woman when she wrote this. Lastly, she makes the case that the American dream is phony when so few are rich and so many are poor, a message that was appropriate in 1940, and still rings true loud and clear today.

Some of this was natural as America was just coming out of the Great Depression, and indeed we see some of these themes in novels like Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ which came out the year before, and which I liken parts of the book to. Others are ahead of their time, such as the call for African-Americans to march on Washington to assert their rights. And still others are uniquely McCullers, who is critical of religion, capitalism, racial inequality, and the American Dream, all while fascism was exerting its dark hold on Europe and the world was on the brink of war. “At least one third of all Southerners live and die no better off than the lowest peasant in any European Fascist state”, she says through Jake Blount.

The novel is touching because it illustrates loneliness in so many ways, but it’s profound because of its radical ideas. Dark and truly horrible things happen to some of these people, but McCullers’ genius is in correctly linking the causality of those events to the twin injustices of economic and racial inequality. You may disagree with how far she takes it, but the novel has honesty and real truth, and should be regarded as a masterpiece.

On capitalism, and America:
“Wherever you look there’s meanness and corruption. This room, this bottle of grape wine, these fruits in the basket, are all products of profit and loss. A fellow can’t live without giving his passive acceptance to meanness. Somebody wears his tail to a frazzle for every mouthful we eat and every stitch we wear – and nobody seems to know.”

“But say a man does know. He sees the world as it is and he looks back thousands of years to see how it all come about. He watches the slow agglutination of capital and power and he sees its pinnacle today. He sees America as a crazy house. He sees how men have to rob their brothers in order to live. He sees children starving and women working sixty hours a week to get to eat. He sees a whole damn army of unemployed and billions of dollars and thousands of miles of land wasted. He sees war coming. He sees how when people suffer just so much they get mean and ugly and something dies in them. But the main thing is that the whole system of the world is built on a lie. And although it’s as plain as the shining sun – the don’t-knows have lived with that lie so long they just can’t see it.”

“The men who fought the American Revolution were no more like these D.A.R. dames than I’m a pot-bellied, perfumed Pekingese dog. They meant what they said about freedom. They fought a real revolution. They fought so that this could be a country where every man would be free and equal. Huh! And that mean every man was equal in the sight of Nature – with an equal chance. This didn’t mean that twenty per cent of the people were free to rob the other eighty per cent of the means to live. This didn’t mean for one rich man to sweat the piss out of ten thousand poor men so that he can get richer. This didn’t the tyrants were free to get this country in such a fix that millions of people are ready to do anything – cheat, lie, or whack off their right arm – just to work for three squares and a flop. They have made the word freedom a blasphemy.”

“That is the way Marx says all of the natural resources should be owned – not by one group of rich people but by all the workers of the world as a whole.”

Lastly this one, shades of Bernie Sanders message while running for President in 2016:
“The whole system of capitalistic democracy is – rotten and corrupt. There remain only two roads ahead. One: Fascism. Two: reform of the most revolutionary and permanent kind.”

On the African-American condition:
“Listen! One out of five of us labors to build roads, or to take care of the sanitation of this city, or works in a sawmill or on a farm. Another one in five of us is unable to get any work at all. But the other three out of five – the greatest number of our people? Many of us cook for those who are incompetent to prepare the food that they themselves eat. Many work a lifetime tending flower gardens for the pleasure of one or two people. Many of us polish slick waxed floors of fine houses. Or we drive automobiles for rich people who are too lazy to drive themselves. We spend our lives doing thousands of jobs that are of no real use to anybody. We labor and all of our labor is wasted. Is that service? No, that is slavery.”

“We will save ourselves. But not by prayers of mourning. Not by indolence or strong drink. Not by the pleasures of the body or by ignorance. Not by submission and humbleness. But by pride. By dignity. By becoming hard and strong. We must build strength for our real true purpose.”

“The Nazis rob the Jews of their legal, economic, and cultural life. Here the Negro has always been deprived of these. And if wholesale and dramatic robbery of money and goods has not taken place here as in Germany, it is simply because the Negro has never been allowed to accrue wealth in the first place.”

On memories:
“Bill uncorked the bottle. He stood shirtless before the mirror and dabbed some of the perfume on his dark, hairy armpits. They scent made him stiffen. He exchanged a deadly secret glance with himself in the mirror and stood motionless. He was stunned by the memories brought to him with the perfume, not because of their clarity, but because they gathered together the whole span of years and were complete. Biff rubbed his nose and looked sideways at himself. The boundary of death. He felt in him each minute that he had lived with her. And now their life together was whole as only the past can be whole.”

On religion:
“Take Jesus. He was one of us. He knew. When He said that it was harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God – He damn well meant just what He said. But look what the Church has done to Jesus during the last two thousand years. What they have made of Him. How they have turned every word He spoke for their own vile ends. Jesus would be framed and in jail if He was living today.”

On being stunned; I liked the imagery:
“She spoke and he could not understand. The sounds were distinct in his ear but they had no shape or meaning. It was as though his head were the prow of a boat and the sounds were water that broke on him and then flowed past. He felt he had to look behind to find the words already said.”
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LibraryThing member vancouverdeb
I am not sure that " enjoy " is really a word that one can use to describe The Heart is a Lonely Hunter , but I certainly appreciated reading it. It's a very sad, tragic book and one that I think would work well as part of a book club or group discussion. I was fascinated by the number of themes
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that young Carson McCullers's touched on. Race relations, isolation, loneliness, gender identity, the beginnings of women's rights, poverty are among but some of the difficulites that are examined. McCuller created the story in such a brilliant way, with the deaf and dumb mute, Singer serving as a "confessor" figure, like a priest. Meanwhile poor old Singer is taking in all of this intimate information and is baffled and troubled by it, and he has his own loneliness and obession, namely missing his " friend", the Greek Spiros Antonapoulous. A quick look on wiki revealed that McCullers also lived a troubled life, dogged by alcoholism, illness, depression and eventually divorce and the suicide of her husband, so I suspect she knew her subject matter well.

4 stars.
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LibraryThing member Cecrow
The opposite of love is not hate, not war. The opposite of love is loneliness, and so long as the heart seeks love, companionship and understanding it will be a lonely hunter. This novel is an ode to the lonely, the isolated, the voice-in-the-wilderness. In 1940 Carson McCullers was a 23-year-old
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young woman from the American South who clearly sympathized with this profile. She also became renowned through this work for successfully writing from the perspectives of a black doctor, a drunk political agitator, a deaf-mute, etc. - characters who would have remained outside the understanding and empathy of many a more mature author. Her best character is still the young girl Mick. It is easy to read autobiographical elements into Mick's portrayal, true or false. When Mick soaked up music through subterfuge I was imagining a young McCullers sneaking around her community as a child, listening under windows to adult conversations to store them away as writing inspiration.

Loneliness is the pervading theme, a common pain that ironically isolates. The novel centers around the other characters finding kinship with deaf-mute Singer, probably because his isolation is made obvious through his disability, yet they do not succeed at finding similar connections with one another. In my favourite scene they are all visiting Singer at the same time and feel awkward in each other's presence. "Each person addressed his words mainly to the mute. Their thoughts seemed to converge in him as the spokes of a wheel lead to the center hub." The spectrum of characters permits the exploration of a variety of responses when they are confronted with despair. Biff is often lumped with the other three as someone who learns from his experience with Singer, but I viewed him as a Singer alternate; the one to whom the others should have turned instead for learning how to communicate outside the range of their isolated views. They surely would have found in him a more informed and meaningful reflector.

I'm going to shelve it with "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" for the mood it creates: an acknowledgement that although life can be hard, bewildering and often unfair, it is worth the struggle.
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LibraryThing member jolerie
The most fatal thing a man can do is try to stand alone. Page 302

Set against a small southern town in the United States during 1930s is the story of several people whose lives are commonly linked by their intrinsic need to be heard. Their lives are a melodic dance that criss cross back and forth,
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their stories mashed and meshed together, bonded by a life long yearning to hear, to be recognized, to be understood, and ultimately to belong to something greater than themselves.

Excuse me for a second while I close my wide and gaping mouth. I am still in awe and shock that McCullers is firstly a female, and secondly only twenty three years old when she wrote this masterpiece of a debut. At twenty three, my thoughts, my head space was rather self centric, entirely confined to the provinciality of trying to graduate university with my insanity intact, while she was penning a book that dealt with the universality of a basic human need to find acceptance. She was struggling to understand racial relationships in a setting that was deeply segregated and fighting to find it's own path of identity. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter may have been focused on a few people in a small town, but the scope and depth of the themes McCuller dares to tackle is anything but small. The language of loneliness permeates the entire story, it seeps and oozes from every one of the characters and brilliantly demonstrates McCuller's ability to capture the spirit of humanity in a simple but unassuming manner. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member carterchristian1
I read this in college in 1952 when I had also just discovered other female southern writers and Faulkner. Desegregation was in the air. Though the college was just south of Birmingham a social studies had just put an assigned reading in the library "My daughter married a negro".

Yet rereading this
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novel almost 60 years later with "a lot of water under the bridge, both personally and nationally, I realized I had no memory at all of the book. The paperback edition I have just read suggests Mick is the focus of the book, a book about a teenager looking at the world, and I think that is how I took it back in the 50s. A recent look into an encyclopedia of American literature says nothing about the racial focus of the book.

But it IS a racial book and the most amazing pages is the dialogue when the black doctor talks about organizing a march on Washington. It seems to predate M L King's march. How can the reviewers have missed this. It is as if no one really understood.

It also raises the question how this 23 year old girl raised in Columbus Georgia could have understood so clearly the issues of race in the south and have been so enlightened.

Amazing book. A true classic of American literature.
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LibraryThing member ocgreg34
After his large Greek friend is taken away to a hospital, John Singer moves into a boarding house during the Great Depression. A quiet man, also a deaf-mute, the small southern town thinks of him as something special, someone they can pin their fantasies to or talk to and for some reason feel that
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he's listening without any prejudices. This comes as a great comfort to those who are trying to find answers to what their hearts are telling them: Mick Kelly, the young daughter of the boarding house owners who has an affinity for music and attempts to understand her new feelings for boys; Biff Brannon the local café owner whose wife just passed away; Jake Blount, a man who feels he has some mission to communicate the ideals of a free government to the folks in town; and Dr. Copeland, the only black doctor in town, well-educated and struggling to make his black brothers and sisters peaceably fight against their hardships in the South.
In Singer each has found a confidant, someone to discuss issues and questions, someone who doesn't judge them.

And yet, throughout their discussions and the increasing political and racial tensions in the small town, no one tries to understand what Singer's going through. He's separated from his most intimate friend by hundreds of miles, and the toll it's taking on him grows more and more until he learns the fate of his friend which ends up affecting more than just Singer.

A sad and rich book that it sometimes surprises me that Carson McCullers was only twenty-three when the novel was published. She tackles the politics and race relations of the day with a careful and thoughtful eye. When Dr. Copeland speaks of the struggles of blacks in the South, it comes across as someone speaking who has experienced those struggles, who truly cares for all peoples, wanting them to succeed even when they feel wronged and blocked at every step. Such insight from McCullers strikes me as remarkable. Her attention to detail also helps to bring the story to life, from the traveling carnival at which Blount finds work to the depictions of how Mick feels the music which she loves.

Her description of the intimacy between SInger and his Greek friend to me almost borders on homosexual. They never do anything more than talk -- Singer singing with his hands while the Greek nods and sometimes signs back -- but their closeness is apparent in Singer's feelings of loss when separated from the Greek or his complete happiness at their brief reunions. It's interesting that everyone turns to Singer as the most understanding and non-judgmental when, if they scrutinized his association with the Greek, they would have most likely turned on him.

"The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" is an incredible book that I recommend to anyone who enjoys the written word.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
Carson McCullers wrote her first novel when she was just 23. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a series of character studies of five lonely people living in a mill town in Georgia in the closing years of the Great Depression. Singer is a deaf mute whose companion, another deaf mute, is
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institutionalized. Moving into a boarding house, he is befriended by a motley collection of loners, all who see him as understanding and sympathetic. Mick Kelly is entering her teenage years and is often responsible for the care of her two younger siblings. She is passionate about music and would love nothing more than to own a piano or even to have music lessons, but her family's financial situation, already precarious, becomes more and more desperate as time goes on. Dr. Copeland is the town's African American doctor and he fights everyday for the health and future of his people, even as he fears that no one is listening. His relationship with his children is tenuous and his own health is failing. Biff Brannon is the owner of a cafe, one that stays open at all hours. Brannon is a listener and a compassionate man, willing to let a debt slide or to help out someone who needs a place to stay. Jake Blount is perhaps the most interesting of the characters here. He sees and feels too strongly the suffering of the people around him and knows that if they would just rise up or even just understand what is going wrong, they could be saved. His passion has made him into a drunk, leaving him with nothing. These four lonely people look to Singer for solace and understanding, failing utterly to see Singer's own pain.

This is no heart-warming story of friendship and fried green tomatoes. There's no happy ending for anyone to be found. McCullers has written a brilliant book about suffering and loneliness. It's beautifully written and utterly heart-breaking.
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LibraryThing member jody12
Last month’s book, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers produced a mixed bag of opinions. We went from ‘absolutely wonderful’ to ‘rather indifferent’. These comments were directed mostly towards the book’s characters, which we all agreed were the driving force of this novel.
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In fact, it was the range of characters and their individual isolation which really pulled on some of our heart-strings.
Denise made comment on how she had never read an American novel that dealt so well with the anger of the working class and at the injustices of society. A few of us found similarities with Steinbeck’s work; the struggle and inequities of life tends to overflow in his novels, and Heart seems to find the same space. Here is a story of unique tenderness and love that lacks the ability to share and soar, leaving more than a few souls lost and forlorn. There are few who could not be touched by this exquisitely human dilemma.

Interestingly, Jeanette and Lorna found the character of Singer to be a representation of Christ, and their points were well taken by all of us. He was, to many a confessor, a listener, a sign of hope and a friend. And although this religious slant seems to be generally missed by most critiques that we read, it is a good example of the many diverse views a book club can unearth.

To sum up, we found this book to be beautifully written, considering the young age of McCullers, which was just 23, an incredibly mature book for such a young woman. The adolescent female character of Mick, we are sure, has some biographical foundation, and the supporting roles so exceptional that they certainly must have come from personal life experience.

This was not an easy book to get copies of, so approximately only half of us were able to read it before meeting. But as the others read and offer their views I dare to predict that it will be one of our best loved books this year.
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LibraryThing member japaul22
[The Heart is a Lonely Hunter] by [[Carson McCullers]]

This is a debut novel by a 23 year old Southern woman, published in 1940. There were things I found very impressive about it, but overall it didn't work for me.

It centers around a deaf man, Singer, who starts out the book best friends with
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another deaf man, Antonapoulos (you guessed it, he's Greek). Antonapoulos is sent to a mental facility by his cousin and Singer starts to come undone without anyone to talk to through sign language. But four very different people in the town find Singer a perfect person to confide in. Though Singer means a ton to each of them, they don't even realize that they aren't reciprocating the relationship to him.

First for the good things. The writing is smooth and mature and one of the characters in particular, the teenage girl Mick, is very well-written. I appreciated the theme of one-sided friendship.

Unfortunately, I found a lot of the other themes rather preachy, especially the attempt at race relations and communist ideals. And I really didn't care much for any of the characters except Mick.

I've heard many great things about this book, so don't skip it because of my review, but it just wasn't for me.
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LibraryThing member cerievans1
I was bowled over by this novel. Such an unexpectedly incredible book. The plot surrounds inhabitants of a non-descript town in the South in the early twentieth century where segregation between black and white people is still normal. Carson McCullers deftly addresses how life looks like for people
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affected by segregation and racism but also how poverty grinds down everyone. The novel is written with relentless realism about the hand to mouth existence of so many and of the lies people tell themselves to dampen their anger and the hopelessness around them. The novel will stay with me forever, it is similar to Zola's Germinal in the unflinching way it portrays poverty and work and the attempts of one man (or men alone) to get people to see how unacceptably they are treated. Many of the things repeated by Copeland and Blount about inequality are still a reality today.... excellent but a little depressing (but perhaps I need to be challenged and to question things more).
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LibraryThing member NativeRoses
I think southern gothic has more to do with the kind of wistful reverence for the past that reflects itself in the architecture and the people. The indellible impression created by Reconstruction, after the Civil War, left the entire region looking over their shoulder at what used to be; Faulkner
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shows this well.

The grotesque, displayed as supernatural beings or events in European gothic can be pure frustration / boredom / inability to fit in, as displayed in O'Connor's work or in Carson McCullers' wonderful work. The heroes are usually nere-do-well's in southern gothic as opposed to knights. And the damsels in distress usually aren't as helpless as they are in Europe, though they are as passionate. The racial tensions and general southern hardships and also the southern formality (manners) also add to the 'gothic-ness'.
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LibraryThing member BrokenTune
“ ‘All I can say is this: The world is full of meanness and evil. Huh! Three fourths of this globe is in a state of war or oppression. The liars and fiends are united and the men Who know are isolated and without defence. But! But if you was to ask me to point out the most uncivilized area on
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the face of this globe I would point here [...]”

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a work of true craftsmanship. The characters are well-appointed, the relationships between them are well structured. The themes and issues picked up by the book are not only conveyed in sympathetic manner, the fact that they are conveyed at all is an act of both foresight and courage.

The fact that Carson McCullers was only 23 when she wrote the book is astounding – and humbling.

McCullers throws us into the sweltering heat of summer in a small town in Georgia, where Mick Kelly is a tomboy on the cusp of growing up. One of things that set Mick apart from the other people around her is a love for music.

We also get to meet Mr Singer, a mute, who owns a radio, keeps himself to himself and focuses his life on his one friend – Mr Antonapoulos. This chosen retreat from society, from the people in the town has the remarkable consequence that the townspeople attribute Mr Singer with all sorts of rumours.

In a way, the character of Mr Singer, reminded me much of Brian in Monty Python’s story – where people would mistake the main character for the messiah and project their expectations on him.

Mr Singer really is the centre character that holds the story together. Through him we also meet Biff, the owner of the local all night cafe/bar, Jake, whose desire for social change leaves him mostly drunk, and Dr. Copeland.

Each of the characters has a story that is revealed. Each has hopes and dreams. Each is a representation of different minority groups of the time and at the time that the book was written. We are confronted with the violence against African Americans, the struggle of artistic young people who are pressured into mundane jobs, the idealists who are despairing over the lack of change.

The major turning point in the novel comes with the death of one of the characters. For the past few days I have been wondering if that death was meant to symbolise Nietzsche’s aphorism that God was dead. And in a way, this event does come close to it but that would presuppose that the events that follow this turning point were caused by or in any way influenced by that death. However, they are not. What follows the death of that character is merely the unravelling of the inevitable. In a way I understood this as a joke. As if to say, whether or not there is a God has no relevance on the suffering that is caused by humanity.

I did not love reading this book. I regard The Heart is a Lonely Hunter as a great and clever book, but it did not enjoy the act of reading as much as I hoped. For all its fabulous structure and courageous stances, I was not gripped by the writing. It is slow, languid, and perfectly at home in its southern setting, in contrast to which I am more at home with the few passages that contrast this.

“The silence in the room was deep as the night itself. Biff stood transfixed, lost in his meditations. Then suddenly he felt a quickening in him. His heart turned and he leaned his back against the counter for support. For in a swift radiance of illumination he saw a glimpse of human struggle and of valour. Of the endless fluid passage of humanity through endless time. And of those who labour and of those who – one word – love. His soul expanded. But for a moment only.”
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LibraryThing member bragan
This novel, set in the deep South shortly before WWII, revolves around a man named Singer, who is deaf and (effectively) mute, and those who gravitate towards Singer because, in his silence, he is easy to talk to -- or, perhaps more importantly, easy to project oneself onto.

I hesitate to use it,
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because it's become a bit of a cliche, but if ever there was a book that merited the phrase "deceptively simple," this is it. I honestly wasn't too certain about the writing style at first, thinking it rather simplistic and choppy, but it quickly drew me in, and, in the end, I think it works extremely well. And while there's nothing remotely obscure or difficult about any of it, there's a lot going on under the surface here. It depicts, in many subtle and interlocking ways, the difficulties of communication, of forming true human connections, of bridging the gap between words and action, and of breaking away from what Thoreau called "lives of quiet desperation." It's also terribly poignant, with well-drawn and believable characters that one cannot help but feel for.

This one definitely deserves its reputation.
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LibraryThing member lyzadanger
Yearning, melancholy, loving and sad: the more McCullers I read, the more I realize her genius for her gentle understanding of the lonely, the freakish and the isolated.

McCullers understands the panicky void that gapes around those who are alone, who cannot express the complications of their minds.
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Each character here, floating alone through life in a miserable southern mill town, each one shares two things in common.

One: their inner life is impossible to express to those around them. Two: a messiah-like reverence for deaf-mute John Singer, who is for all of them an apotheosis, a summation of everything they need him to be.

There is a lot of aching and yearning here. A profound understanding of humanity. A gripping story. Tragedies, a moment caught like a fragile insect of history. Beautiful.
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LibraryThing member RobinDawson
It's amazing to think this book was written by a young white girl of 23. It paints a vivid picture of life in a poor mill town in the south following the Depression. She shows such a breadth of understanding - both genders, all age groups, black and white. Given the prejudices prevailing at that
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time her tolerance, compassion and humanity are all the more remarkable.

The story focuses on five main characters. All are underdogs, oddballs or battlers. Each has a dream, but each finds themselves frustrated, and sadly these dreams turn to ashes - and in some cases death.
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LibraryThing member TaniaBaxter
A novel of great depth and originality, "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter' is moving and unsentimental. The book's main theme is loneliness and the search for connection. I loved it!

Set in the 1930s in the American deep south, the central character is Mister Singer, a deaf mute. Like Singer, the other
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four main characters are outsiders with few friends. They are Biff Brannon, a cafe owner; sometime drunk Jake Blount who rails against the expoitation of workers; Benedict Copeland, a "coloured doctor" who is disappointed in the failure of his adult children; and a young girl, Mick Kelly who has a talent for music but no money for lessons.

Mister Singer moves into a room in a boarding house owned by the Kelly family and begins to eat his meals at Biff's New York Cafe. Individually, the four begin to confide in Singer believing they have found someone who truly understands them.

But they are wrong. Singer has no capacity to understand them. They are all projecting a connection that isn't there. One of the saddest moments in the book is when Mick asks Singer if she should drop out of school to take a low paying job in Woolworths and he says yes.

Other moving scenes are where Mick sneaks into a stranger's yard to listen to a radio playing classical music, and when she tries to make a violin out of a broken ukelele and some violin and guitar strings.

Something else the characters don't realise is that Singer is missing deeply his friend and old housemate, Spiros Antanopoulous ( "The Greek"), also a deaf mute, who has been taken to an asylum in another town.

One of my favourite, and again, very sad parts of the book was a letter that Singer wrote to the illiterate Greek, describing his four visitors and how they all talk so much and he has no real understanding of what they are saying.

Ironically, the Greek is interested only in food and drink, and doesn't seem to care much for Singer either.

The book's characters and themes transcend time although there are are also some great moments that fix it as being written in the 1940s, for example when 12 year old Mick Kelly buys herself cigarettes, goes to a cafe and orders beer, and leaves her baby brother tied to a wagon and in the care of another infant brother!

There are no happy endings but I won't spoil what happens.
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LibraryThing member deargreenplace
This is a wonderfully subtle and affecting story made all the more impressive by knowing that McCullers was only 23 years-old when she wrote it.

She tells the story of John Singer, a deaf-mute who lives in a small Southern town populated by an array of well-rounded characters (Mick was my favourite,
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and the author's too, I suspect).

Singer initially lives with another deaf-mute friend - Antonapoulos - but when his friend becomes ill, he finds himself alone.

In attempting to combat his loneliness, Singer starts taking meals at the New York Cafe, where he meets wannabe revolutionary (and drunk) Jake Blount. He is befriended by a tomboyish and ambitious young girl named Mick and a serious-minded black doctor.

I loved this book because although it is set in the segregated South at a post-Depression time of great poverty, it is not about any of these issues, per se. McCullers writes about her characters and their lives in such detail and so vividly and evocatively, that you become emotionally invested in them rather than looking clinically at the political and social aspects of that time, which have an impact for sure, but the book doesn't come across as being about "issues" in the way that something like To Kill A Mockingbird does.

Politics are simmering away in the lives of Blount and Doctor Copeland most certainly, both of whom have their own causes to promote. Mick is desperate to escape small-town life and dreams of a bigger future for herself, but she is tethered to the poverty of her large family.

Singer becomes a confidant to them all and is perceived as a wise and educated man. He has time and hospitality for each of them, but his attempts to get them to befriend each other are unsuccessful, and of course they fail to see that he is desperately lonely.

I was surprised that I hadn't heard more praise for this book. The characters are so closely observed, and the struggles of their lives so subtly portrayed, that I'd recommend it to all to be read at as early an age as possible. It really was that significant to me.
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LibraryThing member kambrogi
I have read this book, published in 1940, twice in the past few decades. It is a stunning novel, even more so when one realizes it was written by a young woman in the starting gate of her 20’s. It tells the story of four deeply frustrated characters in a small southern town, each of them fixated
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upon a mute man whom they believe to be their one, true friend. The truth behind their illusions is heartbreaking, and the story may be the finest portrayal of loneliness in the English language. It is essentially easy reading, but astonishingly deep in both style and purpose. One of the great classics of southern American fiction.
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LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
This is a truly amazing novel when you factor in that the author is a woman and it was copyrighted in 1940. Her sensitivity to social, political, gender and racial issues was absolutely amazing. This book is so rich in character, but the plot is a bit repetitive. The theme of the mute being the
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confidant of so many, yet lost himself (by way of a love/friendship long gone) is played out over and over and over. Other themes repeat endlessly. However, the way she captures the small, poor Georgia town and the people that inhabit it is spellbinding. To say it brought me to the time and place is a vast understatement. Her writing feels a bit "Hemingway" but even better. What a talent, and how incredibly before her time. Overall very recommended but it is quite depressing. Sticks with you after you finish too.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Set in the American south in the 1930s, this classic novel is an intense character study. Each chapter focuses on one of five characters:
- Mick Kelly, a teenage girl shouldering the burden of caring for younger siblings, and hoping for better things in life
- Biff Brannon, a local restaurant owner,
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who as a result of his profession observes the comings and goings of the town's white population
- Jake Blount, a loudmouth alcoholic working at a local amusement park frequented by the town's African-American population
- Benedict Copeland, an African-American doctor and passionate advocate for "negro rights"
- Mr. Singer, a deaf man who lives as a boarder in Mick's house

Mick, Biff, Jake, and Dr. Copeland each befriend Mr. Singer independently, and visit him regularly in his rooms. Each in their own way reveals their soul and their dreams. Singer lip-reads and occasionally comments in writing, but mostly he is a blank canvas. Each of the five is terribly lonely and isolated, but they find solace in Mr. Singer. He is, for each person, whoever they want him to be. Singer himself is fulfilled by periodic visits to a former roommate, another deaf man who has been placed in an institution.

This makes for an intriguing story and it's quite well-written, and yet I found it difficult to read. Each individual's story is depressing and holds out little hope. And it may have just been a bad time for me to read something like this. I can understand its place in the canon of classic literature, and would even recommend it to others. Just be prepared for it and consider having something more uplifting to read concurrently.
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LibraryThing member deckehoe
A beautifully-crafted depiction of memorable characters in the deep south of the USA.
LibraryThing member NoLongerAtEase
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is not so much a story as "an extended mood", or so says Richard Wright. This claim seems apt. McCullers certainly captures a spirit of isolation and hopelessness and, more importantly, the extent to which the isolated and hopeless can find the strength to go on via
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self-deception. In Singer, each of the other protagonists finds a means of mirroring themselves and their hopes such that they are able to reconnect to the world and feel as though they still have a place in it. That is, by finding a supposed compatriot they are able to convince themselves that they're not alone, that their dreams and ideas merit discussion and have serious import...and yet, as we learn later on, they asked of Singer (and found in him) much more than could be adequately expected. In his absence the mirror shatters and we find their return to the stark realities of a rather grim existence.

What seems to me to be important is Wright's emphasis on mood rather than veridical representation. It's not clear to me that this story is meant to realistically depict "the world" as such, but rather to pick out and emphasize a set of disparate feelings and emotional struggles that all of us have experienced at one time or another. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter depicts the world as it appears to those that feel oppressed, overlooked, and uncertain. This is it's primary accomplishment. I think we needn't read it as anything more. It is not a novel of de facto hopelessness and powerlessness, but, again, a novel about the experience of hopelessness and powerlessness. I think this distinction is rather important, for a truly hopeless novel is one which not only fails in its task (if it attempts a veridical representation of the world) but also fails to be worth reading.
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0618526412 / 9780618526413
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