December 14, 2017, 07:34:34 PM *
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.

Login with username, password and session length
News: SMF - Just Installed!
   Home   Help Search Login Register  
Pages: [1]   Go Down
Author Topic: [115] The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter--Carson McCullers  (Read 3720 times)
0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.
Robert Skipper
Full Member
Posts: 146

View Profile
« on: September 19, 2011, 08:05:11 PM »

Southern discomfort
September 19, 2011

Because I need to move forward and let the writing catch up with the reading, I will try to condense my reflections on the handful of books I have read since last November.  After catching up with myself, I'll probably return to more expansive ruminations.  Next after Zeno's Conscience, came a wonderful first novel by the twenty-three-year-old Carson McCullers: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.

The novel starts off with a touching story of two mute friends, Mr. Singer and Mr. Antonapoulos, who had roomed together for about ten years.  Mr. Antonapoulos always had trouble controlling his impulses and would slyly pocket things that caught his fancy in stores.  This bad habit got much worse after an illness.  In fact, he seemed to lose any sense of social norms.  He would urinate in public, for instance, when the urge struck.  I got the sense that, even before his illness, he really didn't grasp the concepts of property or propriety.  He played along grudgingly, under the guidance of his friend who looked after him and kept him out of trouble.  One day, Mr. Antonapoulos's own cousin (and employer) had him committed to an insane asylum two hundred miles away over Mr. Singer's protests, and the rest of the novel takes place in the vacuum caused by this separation.

The novel deals with several characters, and we are privy to several minds.  Nevertheless, it seems to me that McCullers builds the whole novel around the emerging consciousness of a young girl, Mick Kelly, who comes of age in a small, impoverished town somewhere in the Deep South.  Another famous Bildungsroman about a girl in the Deep South made its appearance on the Decade Project back in April, 2008: Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.  In that book, Scout never leaves center stage, but in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Mick often disappears into the crowd.  Her life intersects with those of all the others, and McCullers presents these characters in such loving and observant detail that Mick often plays descant to some other character's melody.  One could argue, though, that the novel belongs to Mr. Singer, since all the characters, Mick included, gravitate to him. 

Mick's father has been injured and cannot return to work, as it turns out, ever.  The entire family, never well off before, must now forgo all but the barest necessities.  Mick must sacrifice her dreams to the god of survival: she must withdraw from school and get a job; she must quit her piano lessons; and she must move out of her room so they can take in a boarder, Mr. Singer.

The book explores, through the lives of its several characters, a single unifying theme: The overarching need for, and the impossibility of, any meaningful human exchange.  Each character just wants an audience.  They wish that someone else, somewhere, would hear and understand them.  Ironically, the deaf Mr. Singer seems to fill that very need for everyone.  He sits with them and watches their lips as they talk, and, even though he never says anything, they all think him wise.  Perhaps he does have a certain amount of wisdom.  He clearly has genuine feelings for Mr. Antonapoulos.  But the quiet devotion of his followers speaks more of their neediness than of his depth or insight.  Everyone wants an audience, but no one stops to listen to anyone else--no one except the deaf mute, that is.  But MucCullers, I suspect, must want us to see that communication must work both ways.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter impressed me from the first pages with its sensitive observation of humanity.  It also explored the racial situation of the South during the run-up to World War II together with the working classes' resentment and distrust of capitalism in the wake of the Great Depression.  Best of all, unlike To Kill a Mockingbird, this novel never becomes didactic.  It covers a wide range of human concerns, and it does so with a level of confidence befitting a much older writer.  I enjoyed it immensely, despite its ultimately downbeat prognosis for the human condition.

Pages: [1]   Go Up
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.15 | SMF © 2006-2008, Simple Machines Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!