Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (1940, 178 pages)

 The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is classic example of what is often called "Southern Gothic" literature.  Like others in this genre such as Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty, McCullers deals with misfits and social outsiders in small towns in the American South of the 1930s, a period of legalized racism and gross social prejudice. McCullers (1917 to 1967-Columbus, Georgia, USA) wrote four novels and a number of short stories. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is by far her best known work. It was a best seller on publication and has never gone out of print. It is a dark deep look into an ugly period in American life. I think reading it is now almost a "rite of passage" for bookish young Americans. (The book is very regionalized and time centered in its diction and social references and will present an additional challenge to some readers for that reason.)     I have previously posted on one of her short stories, "The Jockey", which is a very  good work.

I have wanted to read this book for a very long time and I am so glad I have at last done so. There are just some amazing passages and scenes in this book. It is all the more amazing to think the author was only 23 when it was first published. The story line centers around a deaf man named John Singer and the people he encounters in a small "backwoods" American town. We meet a number of very lonely isolated people. There is Biff Branson the owner of a small cafe where a lot of the "action" of the novel takes place. Mick Kelley is the young female lead struggling to find herself and a friend. Rounding out the cast we have an alcoholic labor agitator ("outside agitators" were a big "bogey man" type of figure in the American South of the 1940s to the 1960s blamed for social unrest and the declining willingness of African Americans to accept discrimiation) and Doctor Copeland, an idealistic Marist African American,  who gives a great lecture on Marist and the American South.

There are a lot of blog posts on this novel.     What I liked best about it was the relatiionships between the two deaf men, the treatment of the reading life of Doctor Copeland and the novel's depiction of race relations.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter  is about coping with being alone.    It is about the roots of racial hatred.   It is beautifully written.    Some of the violence in the novel is almost over powering.   

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter  is a strange wonderful book, strange in the way Wuthering Heights is strange and Jane Eyre is not.     This may not be a "happy feel good book" but it does take a deep look into the night.   

I found The Heart is a Lonely Hunter  a compelling read.    Much of the prose is beautiful.    It  might  seem or be dated to some and requires a bit of understand of the time and setting.   I liked this book a lot.   

Mel u


  1. I think my classics book group will read this next year. I'm so glad to hear it is so fantastic! I recently found a copy at a used book sale, so I'm all ready to enjoy it too.

  2. This is definitely one of my favorite novels, and I think it's sad that most of her work seems to tackle loneliness, all the characters with this sense of isolation. I completely agree that The Heart is a Lonely Hunter isn't a feel good book, but it was beautifully written nonetheless. :)

  3. I love Southern Gothic Lit and because of that fact I probably teach more of it than I should (mostly short stories though by O'Connor, Faulkner and the like), it's easy for the kids to understand the stock character elements and appreciate its routes. I am ashamed to say that I have yet to finish this book, but your post makes me want to! Maybe this summer...

  4. I an a great admirer of this novel. I don't recall finding anything 'dated' in it, but it is a product of its time. The only problem I found was the lack of anything pulling the reader through the entire novel. Its too much like a series of character pieces, wonderful character pieces, mind you. It was just a minor issue with what is otherwise a wonderful book.

  5. This book broke my heart. I loved it so much. It was so well-written that I felt attached to the characters when it was over.

  6. I am starting this book tomorrow. I will come back and read your review in a few days. (usually do not like to read a review until I've read it; just wanted to know if you liked it)

  7. This sounds really good Mel. Look forward to reading this.

  8. Appreciated reading your review as I have been wanting to read this novel for some time now. I love your reflection: strange like Wuthering Heights is strange and Jane Eyre is not, by the way.


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