Tag Archives: southern literature

“The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” By Carson McCullers

heart

“Maybe when people longed for a thing that bad the longing made them trust in anything that might give it to them.”

I was pulled out of my “book rut” when I opened a copy of this novel.  By book rut, I meant that it’s been (in my opinion) too long since I read a book that grabbed my attention, transported me, and left me breathless and overwhelmed with emotion.  Being in a book rut is quite disappointing for bookworms such as myself. I thus scoured the Internet looking for ideas of well-written books that would captivate me.  The Heart is a Lonely Hunter came up on a few lists so I took that as a sign.

It’s funny how loved, popular, and timeless the book To Kill a Mockingbird is, yet I’ve never heard of  The Heart is a Lonely Hunter before.  In many ways, they are very similar.  Both take place in the Southern US, both have a tomboy as a main character, both tackle issues of racism and growing up.  I was actually astounded at the similarities.  However, while To Kill a Mockingbird is centered around white people and the experiences of blacks through a white lens, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter has prominent black characters that are richly developed, and complex.

This book was written in the 1940s by a 23-year-old white woman, yet had I not known that before reading this book, I would never have guessed that.  What makes this book so brilliant is the fact that a young Southern and white woman could write about complex issues of racism, grief, and sexuality with empathy and a deep insight that is beyond her years.

The cast of characters is a rag tag melee of misfits in the South who are united by their friendship with a mute named John Singer.  There’s Biff, a recently widowed store owner who is exploring his gender identity; Dr. Copeland, a black man who is frustrated with the plight of African Americans in the US; Jake Blount, an alcoholic who is obsessed with leading a revolution; and Mick, a young teen girl whose high hopes for life are slowly crushed by her family’s descent into poverty.  Singer has his own issues: his best friend/ soul mate (probably lover) is in a mental institution and so he has no one to lay his own burdens and love onto.

The most interesting part about this book was the deep biblical undertones.  Singer is like Jesus: the main characters are constantly coming to talk to him and tell him about their life, their burdens, their hopes and their fears.  Being a mute symbolizes that while people pray to Jesus or God, they don’t get a direct answer.  His character also represents how humans project their own ideas of who God should be.  For Singer, he means something different to each of the characters.  A significant moment in the novel is when all the main characters are together in the same room, and no one can talk to each other.  They all want to talk to the mute instead.  This scene is one example of how brilliant, metaphorical, and powerful this book is.

I could go on and on about the symbolism and meanings in this book, but I don’t want to spoil anything.  Do yourself a literary favor, and read this book. Be warned though: there are a lot of emotional parts.

Have you read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter? If so, I’d love to hear what you thought about it.  Let me know in the comments your opinions!

 

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