112 of 117 people found the following review helpful
This 1940 novel by Carson McCullers is set in a small southern town. It's about five different people and their relationships to each other. There is surface structure inasmuch as the chapters move back and forth, focusing on one character and then another and moving the action forward. But there's an appealing off-center feeling to it all, as this study in what it means to be a human being reflects the human condition without having to tie it all up in a neat little package.
Driving the story is John Singer, a deaf mute. When his friend Sprios, a fellow deaf mute, goes insane, John Singer attracts other alienated people, who pour their hearts out to him, believing that he understands everything. There's Jake, who drinks hard, requires constant stimulation of his senses to feel alive, and views the world though a communist philosophy. There's Dr. Copeland, a black physician, who so wants to improve the condition of his race, that he has driven his wife and children away because they never fit the picture of the way he wanted them to be. There's Mick, the adolescent girl, introspective and intuitive, who dreams of a future filled with music and travel. And then there is Biff, the owner of the Café, who collects old newspapers and tries to make sense out of what is going on around him. Everyone feels that the deaf-mute has some sort of magical presence. But yet, he too, proves to be very human.
The town itself is important to the story, and Ms. McCullers' makes use of the rhythms of the seasons and of music to bring the reader right there. The coming-of-age of the adolescent made me sad and the realities of racism caused me to cringe in horror. The alienation is deeply frustrating. This is exemplified by one very moving scene where two men debate how to handle injustices. Both men want the same things, but yet they talk past each other, each demanding that the other must follow a certain prescribed ideology.
Each character is restricted by limitations. Each one has desires. And each one has his or her desires crushed. How each one reacts and how this interaction affects everyone else is the essence of the story. The author's skill pulls it all together masterfully. It's a disturbing book as it tugs at that chord of isolation that exists in all of us. And yet, it is a wonderful read. I highly recommend it.
50 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on May 31, 2004
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. Highly recommended.
Only 23 when she wrote The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers captures the restless energy of adolescence and the loneliness and isolation of those who choose not to fit into their world-Mick Kelly, an artistic teenager whose titles and graffiti reveal a darker side to her personality; Jake Blount, an itinerant socialist; Benedict Mady Copeland, a consumptive black physician; and Biff Brannon, owner of the New York Café. Linking this disparate group of outsiders is the ironically named John Singer, a man who cannot talk (or sing). They are drawn to him, as lonely people are to someone they believe will listen and understand. They never step out of themselves to discover that Singer listens, but he doesn't understand, nor do they realise that he, too, is lonely and isolated-or why.
Just as these four impose their concept of Singer upon him, he has his own idol-his companion of 10 years, Spiros Antonapoulos. While Singer's lonely friends project upon him the character of a wise, knowing, understanding man, Singer in turn imposes a similar personality on Antonapoulos. His life revolves around his rare visits to the asylum to which Antonapoulos is eventually taken. As the reader's awareness of Antonapoulos as a childish, greedy, and lazy man grows, so grows Singer's faith in him as gentle and wise. As a fellow mute, Antonapoulos is all Singer has, so he both idealises and idolises him-in the same way that Mick, Blount, Copeland, and, to a lesser extent, Brannon idealise and idolise Singer.
Rarely do any of the four interact, except when Blount and Dr. Copeland engage in a circular argument about how best to help their peoples-victims of capitalism in Blount's case, blacks in Dr. Copeland's. These two groups have much in common, but just as Blount and Dr. Copeland remain in bitter conflict, so do their peoples-a conflict which is alluded to throughout and which culminates in a brawl at the carnival grounds where Jake works. Dr. Copeland and Jake never find common ground, nor do the poor white laborers and oppressed blacks they wish to enlighten. Dr. Copeland's self-sacrificing but hopeless dedication and Jake's self-destructive brutality could be seen as representing their time and place, the 1930s South.
Sexual ambiguity pervades the novel. It is never clear whether Singer and Antonapoulos are lovers, although it seems like that that is what lies behind Singer's uncritical devotion. Even when Antonapoulos's selfish, greedy, irrational behaviour drives away a third mute, Singer is merely disappointed at the loss of a potential friend-as long as he has Antonapoulos, he is content. After Antonapoulos leaves, ". . . in the spring a change came over Singer . . . his body was very restless . . . unable to work off a new feeling of energy."
This sexual energy is shared by Mick, who is always restless. This isolates her even more from the rest of her family: her father, a disabled carpenter trying half-heartedly to make a living; her mother, for whom Mick acts as a substitute parent for her younger brothers Bubber (George) and Ralph; her older brother Bill, once close to her and now distant; and her older sisters Hazel and Etta, who have been forced from adolescence into adulthood through work and their own conventional interest in celebrity. (One could speculate about the nature of the "diseased ovary" Etta develops.)
Mick lives in an "inside room," where she finds peace in music and in her perceptions of her friendship with Singer. Later, after her sexual initiation, she finds herself slyly manipulated into taking a job by her apparently solicitous family; at this point, she notices that, while the "inside room" is still important, she has less time and energy for it. McCullers exposition of Mick's transition from inventive childhood to dulling adulthood is subtle and is one of the best aspects of the novel.
Of the four, Brannon is the most enigmatic. After his wife dies, he redecorates in what seems a distinctly unmasculine way (in contrast to his heavy, black beard, the subject of many comments). Even more interesting, he begins to wear his late wife's perfume. While he observes, defends, and supports Jake, his sexual feelings are focused on Mick, to whom he seems distant and cold (in her naiveté, Mick attributes his attitude to the fact that she and Bubber shoplifted gum from the café). Not surprisingly, after Mick is sexually initiated, obtains a job, and begins to dress and behave more like a girl on the cusp of womanhood, Brannon loses interest and consequently warms up to her. She is now no more of a challenge to his impotence than his late wife was.
McCullers weaves a dense cloth of themes. First, there is the inward and selfish nature of loneliness. No one ever truly reaches out; in fact, Mick's Jewish neighbor Harry, appalled by fascism and Hitler, and Brannon are the only characters who are interested in the greater world. The conditions of the working poor and the black experience are eloquently portrayed without much narrative or focus on details. By the end, everything and nothing has changed. Mick is determined to escape fate through music, unlikely as it seems; a weakened Dr. Copeland becomes unable to carry on his "strong, true purpose." Blount leaves town to find someone who will finally accept the basket of ideas that haunts his nightmares; Brannon, "suspended between bitter irony and faith," faces the dawn exactly as he has for years.
McCullers' portrayal of these disparate characters are true to life and reveal a remarkable insight into people, no matter their age, gender, race, or background-an insight that is lacking in her self-absorbed characters. The heart is a lonely hunter, so it will find what it wishes to-love-in the most unlikely of places. It would take many re-readings to mine the richness here.
Diane L. Schirf, 31 May 2004.
112 of 123 people found the following review helpful
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter is one of the best novels I've read in a while. I loved the way Carson McCullers develops the characters in this book. Loneliness and racial injustice are two timeless themes in this novel that McCullers presents so well. McCullers was a white woman writing about how black people were mistreated and felt oppressed in 1940. She was an author truly ahead of her time in that way.
All the characters are so memorable in this book. Biff Brannon is a compassionate cafe owner. He helps anyone in need by giving them either food, money or a job. Brannon becomes a widower when his wife dies suddenly of a tumor. Mick Kelly is a lonely but intelligent 12 year old girl from a poor family with a passion for music. Doctor Copeland is a black physician. He becomes a crusader for racial justice when his son goes to jail. McCullers explains the basic principles of Karl Marx's economic theory in the novel by putting in a lecture by Copeland in the novel to show how society is divided between the rich and poor people. I knew nothing about Karl Marx's ideas, so I thought this part of the novel was very interesting. Another memorable character is John Singer. He is a man who does not have the ability to speak. However, he becomes the person all the characters eventually confide all their problems to. Singer communicates with his long time room mate and only deaf friend by using sign language. The relationship and love between these two deaf friends is one of the best things about this novel.
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter is one of the best books Oprah has ever chosen for her book club. The themes of loneliness and racial injustice are timeless and universal. The characters are very memorable too. I loved reading this book.
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on June 5, 2004
I was a freshman in college when I first discovered this book -- a paperback with a beautiful cover -- and was at once caught up in its marvelously realized world of all too human characters. Like McCullers' other masterpiece, The Member of the Wedding, this is a heartbreaking book, reflecting great sadness in its tender portrait of the ordinary people of an ordinary town, and the sweet, generous aspirations of a lone girl who wants so badly to embrace life and to make a difference. McCullers left us only a few books, but what an influence she had on my life and so many many others. She was the image of young genius, yet so incredibly wise. Her short story "A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud," is unforgettable. Hers is an authentic Southern Gothic voice, yet always beautifully restrained, and unfailingly compassionate.
205 of 237 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2004
Besides this book, I have read "A Member of the Wedding" by Carson McCullers. It is very striking to me that when I read each of these books, my mental images of the characters and settings were in black and white. Well, really, I saw it all play out in shades of gray. The people and places in this book are dark, often dirty, lowly, depressed, depressing and teetering on the verge of hopelessness.
The title aptly states the novel's theme; the overriding feeling of the book is stark loneliness. The characters cannot connect with one another - even when they are trying very hard to do so. They don't have authentic relationships even when they think that they have found a soul mate. Each of them wants to share his or her inner-most truths, and without exception they are impotent in their attempts. They each have things that they want to do, talents that they want to express. In each case, they can't or don't overcome their personal burdens to reach their goals or to achieve any sort of success. In the end, they are each alone with little hope for a more fullfilling life.
The book is very well written. Each chapter is written as a stream of consciousness of one of 4 main characters who each move the story forward a (very tiny) bit. This book is all about characters. It is definitely NOT about plot. McCullers remains stylistically consistent throughout, which seems to be quite an accomplishment in this very ambitious first novel.
For me, reading this book is a literary accomplishment. I can check off another classic from my list of books to read. However, it was not a book that I found enjoyable. I would suggest that ambitious readers should tackle it. Its style, mood and characters are very effectively created and sustained. On the other hand, if you prefer plot, uplifting or hopeful themes, happy endings or characters that grow or overcome their limitations, you may not want to spend your reading efforts on this book.
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on November 27, 2002
This is a brilliant novel set in a Georgia milltown during the Great Depression.
Four people,struggling with their own identities, confide in a deaf mute. Dr. Copeland is a black physician suffering from TB who is estranged from his own family by his passionate devotion to protecting the rights of his race; Jake Blount, an alcoholic and border-line psychotic, who is tormented by his radical ideas of the rights of the working class, Biff Brannon a restaurant owner who is trying to come to terms with his own feelings following the death of his wife; and Mick Kelly, a sensitive teenage girl and daughter of the family who own the boarding house where the mute lives, .
The four feel a special kinship to the mute, Mr. Singer, because of the sensitivity that each one must sense in him. Singer listens to their stories and asks them questions yet he gives little advice. Singer himself is a depressed by the decline, both physically and mentally, and institutionalization of his constant companion, another deaf mute, whose fate ultimately has a profound affect on Singer and his four confidants.
The book deals subtly with several different social issues-racial strife in the South, a teenage girl coming to terms with her emerging sexuality, labor unrest, and the effect of the Great Depression on the middle class.
85 of 98 people found the following review helpful
on August 10, 2004
This book is huge. I approached it with skepticism. Half way through the book, I wasn't wowed. Then while I was telling somebody else about it, it dawned on me how deep the characters and the story had grown. It's a coming of age story for a whole town and one young girl. Every character is so natural through the story that a rich diversity of music, politics, philosophy, and religion is subtly and radically revealed.
Mick Kelly's experiences at her "prom" and the swimming hole, her relationships with her siblings, and obsession with music provide a parallel for the life of each other person. A deaf-mute as a focus to share a secret with each character was inspired. We're all individuals in the same boat. The abrupt last sentence of Part 2 is brilliant.
It's a simple story to enjoy with plenty to discover and digest throughout.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Carson McCullers has written a beautiful book about the Depression Era with tragic yet deep rooted characters who pull at your heart strings.
Every character in this book is written with compassion and understanding. They all possess a desire for something and they are all led away from exactly what they desire because of poverty, growth, transitions, death, prejudice and/or responsibilities. Your heart will hunt along with them all for that one moment that "it" all comes together. But like most lives the thing that we most want is often in the way of real life and one must make choices often leaving the dreams and desires of our heart behind.
I liked this book because of the depth of the characters and the descriptiveness with which McCullers writes. However I felt it was a bit too long and didn't really wrap things up completely at the end. I would recommend the book purely for the message it contains....stay true to your dreams and stay hungry for life even if you are lonely, the best company is often in your own heart.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 2003
At first I was tempted to describe this book as a tragedy. After all, there is little to cheer about, few if any moments of true joy in this book. But that's not the definition of tragedy. Tragedy is when a sympathetic main character meets an unfortunate end that was either unexpected or avoidable. In this book, Carson McCullers gives her readers no reason, ever, to think that her story will end happily. There is a sense of pre-destined failure in each of her five main characters. They all have hopes, dreams, and desires - some more noble than others - but none has an aura of optimism or promise. As cliché as it sounds, reading this novel is in many ways like watching an unavoidable train wreck in slow motion.
To her credit, McCullers does an admirable job of maintaining the pace and rhythm of her narrative, despite the inevitable outcome. As pathetic and hopeless as each character is, they each possess a strong will and determination to follow what is in their heart. No matter that what is in their heart is often misguided - a fact that is painfully obvious to the reader. Because their hopes and dreams are real to them, they earn the readers' sympathy - or at least the readers' pity.
But at the risk of sounding shallow and superficial, this is a real downer of a book. You hope against your better instinct that Singer, the loveable mute who devotes his life to a friend unworthy of his love, will find what his heart is searching for. You pray that against the odds Dr. Copeland will find a way to redirect his feelings about race relations towards positive, fruitful ends. You believe that just maybe young Mick, full of energy and ambition, will pursue her dream of becoming a classical pianist. And while you set the bar much lower for Jake, the drunken drifter, you perhaps at least hope that he will find a way to stay out of trouble.
Each pursues his lonely journey is his own way. And through these journeys McCullers goes deep into the realm of personal despair, exploring her characters' pain in a way that is painful for the reader as well. In the end, you feel like you have suffered with the characters, which depending on how you look at it, makes this both a well-written book and book you may be glad to put behind you.
49 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2002
One of the most amazing things about The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is that Carson McCullers was only 23 when she wrote this. The writing in this novel is incredible. I think the reader should be prepared for the fact that this story is melancholy and can be depressing at times, but at the same time is brilliant in its character depth and social understanding. I wish I would have read this novel in highschool as there is clearly a lot of symbolism and statement that would lead to great discussions. The center of this novel is John Singer a deaf-mute who is feeling abandoned after his life-long friend Antonapoulos is sent away to a distant hospital. The novel introduces us to 4 lives: a young girl named Mick who grows up in poverty; Dr. Copeland, an African-American doctor; Jake Blount a wandering alcoholic and Biff Brannon a cafe owner. We learn the loneliness and pain of each of these characters and watch as each one is drawn to the mute, John Singer. McCullers details her novel with many truths about the human spirit, as well as some political and social statements of her own. It is said that much of the novel is autobiographical as McCullers was raised in a small southern town, primarily by her African-American maid. I would suggest that the reading of this novel is coupled with a little research about McCullers and some background info on the novel for full appreciation. Upon completion I am glad that I read this and can appreciate it for all that it offers and is trying to say.