Friday 2 May 2014

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

Vintage Penguin No. 1566
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter explores the problems of isolation and communication . It is the story of four people who base their existence around the deaf-mute John Singer in the earlier 20th Century in the deep south.

Carson McCullers was born in a small Georgia town and it is this town that provides the setting for her writing.  The town in the book is never revealed and I believed it was Mississippi but could have been Georgia, Alabama or Louisiana. Carson McCullers was filled with angst and grief and led quite an amazing life herself. She hated violence, perversion, injustice and was herself filled with conflict and pain.

I have ordered her biography that I found on eBay because her life sounds so fascinating.

The main characters are John Singer, as I mentioned, a deaf-mute who lives in a boarding house in a small town.
The other main characters are Jake Blount a frustrated, alcoholic political activist and a bit of a roustabout. Doc Copeland is the black doctor in the town whose scholastic ability is so advanced and he struggles to come to terms with the superstitions and untruths of his own people and the town around him.  

Portia is his daughter who works in the household of the boarding house.  Mick is the teenage girl who belongs to the family of the people who own the boarding house. They are very poor and she struggles to come to terms with the fact she will not pursue her music that she so loves as she cares for her younger siblings and goes to school.  She is a wonderful character.

Biff is the owner of the cafe whose wife dies in the story and he is left behind to deal with his lot in life. All the characters congregate around the cafe or John Singers house. It is here friendships are made. Every week these four people visit John Singer in his boarding house blindly stating their own lives and problems to him. They never know how much he truly understands but he acts like a mentor to them, albeit silent.  It is the ending of this book that is so profound. I say no more.

From the Film 1968
I saw the film of this movie years ago, I believe in the 70's. Alan Arkin played the role of John Singer and Sondra Locke was Mick.  It never left my mind as I loved it so much. Both actors were nominated for Academy Awards in these roles.

Loneliness and poverty permeates this book and if you're on a downer I wouldn't recommend reading it unless you want to be surrounded by people worse off than yourself.  The years of the depression were so hard for people in America and it is never portrayed better than in the deep south of the U.S

I loved this story. I loved all the characters. I love that they thought deeply about the issues of their time. I loved that they tried so hard to connect to others and John Singer is such a wonderful man.

This book is very much in the vein of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird or John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath.   

It is Southern Gothic at its best and I think everyone should read it at some time, (but that's just me.)  I was deeply moved by this book. I was always going to read it since seeing the movie but since our book group assigned it for the May book I embraced it completely.

Now I know one of my friends dislikes stories from the deep south though I've never had the conversation with him as to why (ahem....Thomas).  But no doubt he has read this ???

Carson McCullers- The Heart is a Lonely Hunter was her
first novel.
I was surprised when I looked in some of my reference books, such as great American Women Writers and another book of American Literature.  Carson McCullers was not mentioned because I certainly would include her.  Not only was she a novelist but she also wrote short stories and plays. She was an important figure in American Literature though she had such a crazy lifestyle I wonder if this wasn't accepted for the time. She married her husband and had quite a volatile relationship only to divorce and remarry him several years later. She was reportedly bi-sexual and was quite promiscuous with both men and women. She worked in New York and Europe and seemed to fit in with that whole writer's group that went to Paris. Faulkner and Hemingway were her contemporaries. I am looking forward to the biography arriving as it was reviewed quite well even though it was written some time ago.

I loved this book and I would have to say it is the best book I have this  year by far.

(This book fits into my Century of Books Challenge for 1943.)


  1. Thanks for writing this beautiful post on CM's The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I saw the film too back when it was shown in theatres, way back ... did you say in 70's? I forgot. But there weren't DVD's then, and I only went to theatres to watch movies, and this one left an indelible impression on me, a young teenager. I read the book only years later. I appreciate your comparing it to To Kill A Mockingbird and wondering why CM wasn't mentioned in lit. accounts. After all, she had written more works than HL, albeit I admit, HL had us all with just one hit. It's still one of my all time faves. ;)

  2. I looked the film date up and it came out in 1968. I'm glad you loved this book and film as much as I did. Thanks for your comments.


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