The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter / Carson McCullers

When this, her first novel, was published in 1940, McCullers was just twenty-three years old.  It is set in a small southern mill town in the 1930s during the dark days of the Depression.  The poverty and desperation of the times is presented in vivid detail.  One of her main characters is John Singer, a deaf-mute who can read lips but who has no one he can communicate with using sign language.  He has a kind and understanding nature and many are drawn to share their hopes and dreams with him.   But none of them understand that in his silent isolation he is a lonely man.  Instead, each believes he alone truly understands  them.  This includes Biff Brannon, the proprietor of the New York Café, a middle aged man who spends each and every night behind the cash register, observing his customers as he ponders the meaning of life.  Then there is Mick Kelly, a thirteen-year-old tomboy who can hold her own against any bully.  Her dream is to compose classical music even though her parents are too poor to pay for music lessons or buy her a piano.  Jake Blount is an alcoholic and a drifter new to town.  An educated man fired by the books of Karl Marx and Thorstein Veblen, he wants to rouse the common man to revolt against the slavery of capitalism.  From the other side of the tracks there is Benedict Mady Copeland, a Negro doctor and radical who is also well read.  His passion is to see his race earn equality and respect.  McCullers’ prose is masterful and she possesses amazing powers of observation into the inner lives of her characters.  As a white writer, she treats the Negroes with the same compassion and understanding as those of her own race.  It is an astonishing accomplishment to have written this insightful novel at such a young age.  Clearly, she possessed an “old soul” to be able to tackle the mature topics presented here.  The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter is a classic that resonates as much today as when it was first written.  It packs an emotional punch and has a depth that few books today can equal.


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