The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

This book was not what I expected. For a start, I thought that Carson was a man (she is not) and the title had me thinking of something Gatsby-esque. But this was not a love story. Or perhaps it is, but certainly not a conventional one.

It is about John Singer, a deaf mute who becomes a confidant for several members of the community in a southern American town. They are all in their own way isolated from the community and have secret hopes and passions that they can talk about with noone else. To them he is an enigma, an understanding ear and a friend all rolled into one. Yet he is just a normal man, with his own needs and aspirations, who can’t really understand why the others are drawn to him.

Mick Kelly is a young girl who adores classical music and dreams of travelling to far off places to be a composer, yet in reality, her dream will never reach fruition and she knows this. The two warring sides of herself, the one that hopes and yearns for this ambitious future and the one that accepts the improbability of this, cannot let her be content; she is always restless and only her afternoons spent talking to Singer and listening to his radio can soothe her.

Jake Blount and Doctor Copeland share a burning passion for change and progression. Copeland, a well-educated, black doctor, cannot bear to witness the prejudice that people of his race face on a daily basis, nor the way that his own family – his daughter, Portia, and his son, Willie – accept the injustice they experience. He has spent a lifetime trying to educate and help others yet he bitterly feels the insignificance of his efforts. Similarly, Blount hates the oppression of working people brought about by capitalism and the greed of others. He wants to make a difference, but he can never seem to make his voice heard. Instead he becomes an object of ridicule and aggression among those he wants to help. Both these men are able to find solace and relief in talking to Singer, although it is unclear whether he actually agrees with them or not.

In truth Singer is really only interested in seeing his friend, Antonapoulos, another mute whom he used to live with. Antonapoulos was sent away to an institution by his cousin and Singer eagerly awaits his opportunities to visit him. He is incredibly lonely without him, despite the almost constant company he receives from those in the community that seek him out. Singer cannot communicate his true feelings to anyone other than Antonapoulos and the others merely interpret his silence as understanding. Their friendship with Singer is one-sided Рthey are selfish in their desire to talk and be understood, while never attempting to reciprocate the role Singer plays for them.

I can’t say much more without revealing the sadness of the ending but I thought it was an incredibly moving story and one that captures human lives; our vices and virtues, our dreams and our every day. It is not a plot driven novel and it is not one that I could really say was gripping. But the characters are beautifully drawn and the emotions are very real. I’d definitely like to read something else by McCullers.

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