Jump to content, Jump to navigation.

Amber Paulen

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

Carson McCullers

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

As probably with most readers, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter was my first introduction to Carson McCullers. It was this book that landed her in the literary spotlight in her early twenties. And like most readers, I was amazed that a book that plunges to such complex depths of human loneliness could be written by a girl hardly twenty. Despite the writer’s youth there was nothing half-formed about this book, and I imagine that McCullers somehow skipped from adolescence straight to adulthood.

One of my first joys of reading this novel is the simplicity of McCullers’s prose or, more accurately, her sentences. Most of her paragraphs’ first sentences are short and precise. From that first sentence her paragraphs flower with rarely more punctuation than periods. It’s difficult not to be amazed at the variety of her declarative sentences. One has to search pages before finding a few commas, let alone a semicolon. If the rhythm of this story doesn’t come from its punctuation, it’s in its words and the organization of chapters each told from the viewpoint of one of its five characters.

The central character of The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter is John Singer, a mute. He can double as a simple metaphor of his condition, of not being able to speak. He draws people to him who can share themselves only with him. The black doctor, the drunk socialist from out of town, the pensive restaurant owner, and the adolescent girl toss their worries into Singer like a well. In turn Singer is unable to talk by sign language to anyone but his best friend who has been shipped off to a psych ward. The loneliness of Singer’s four friends converge within him where his loneliness resides and stays.

Part One is especially thrilling stylistically for the way the story rolls off the perspectives of the main characters, and I was disappointed when the same form wasn’t carried out in the next two parts. The first chapter is from Singer’s point of view, and the second chapter picks up from that of the restaurant owner, and so on through Mick, Doctor Copeland, Jake Blount, and then Singer again. The narrative follows concisely through all five and links them inextricably together.

While Part Two oscillates with seeming randomness among the five lives, though still reserving each to its own chapter. The young girl, Mick Kelly, figures the most often and the most hopeful because of her youth and her search for beauty through music. This part wields a strange effect that I notice now on looking back over the book. The individual tragedies, by themselves difficult and sometimes unthinkable, become nearly bearable when thought of as part of the web of the five characters, tragedies and lives come together in Singer.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is a classic of Southern American fiction with good reason. And I look forward to reading more Carson McCullers in the upcoming year. Though first I want to dig into her biography (How does someone write a book like this so young?). What I’ve read about McCullers’s life is that she is one of the those writers who flare up dramatically for a moment, leaving us forever with an impressive body of work.


·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·