The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

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Overview

With the publication of her first novel, THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER, Carson McCullers, all of twenty-three, became a literary sensation. With its profound sense of moral isolation and its compassionate glimpses into its characters' inner lives, the novel is considered McCullers' finest work, an enduring masterpiece first published by Houghton Mifflin in 1940. At its center is the deaf-mute John Singer, who becomes the confidant for various types of misfits in a Georgia mill town during the 1930s. Each one ...

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Overview

With the publication of her first novel, THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER, Carson McCullers, all of twenty-three, became a literary sensation. With its profound sense of moral isolation and its compassionate glimpses into its characters' inner lives, the novel is considered McCullers' finest work, an enduring masterpiece first published by Houghton Mifflin in 1940. At its center is the deaf-mute John Singer, who becomes the confidant for various types of misfits in a Georgia mill town during the 1930s. Each one yearns for escape from small town life. When Singer's mute companion goes insane, Singer moves into the Kelly house, where Mick Kelly, the book's heroine (and loosely based on McCullers), finds solace in her music. Wonderfully attuned to the spiritual isolation that underlies the human condition, and with a deft sense for racial tensions in the South, McCullers spins a haunting, unforgettable story that gives voice to the rejected, the forgotten, and the mistreated—and, through Mick Kelly, gives voice to the quiet, intensely personal search for beauty.
Richard Wright praised Carson McCullers for her ability "to rise above the pressures of her environment and embrace white and black humanity in one sweep of apprehension and tenderness." She writes "with a sweep and certainty that are overwhelming," said the NEW YORK TIMES. McCullers became an overnight literary sensation, but her novel has endured, just as timely and powerful today as when it was first published. THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER is Carson McCullers at her most compassionate, endearing best.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“To me the most impressive aspect of THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER is the astonishing humanity that enables a white writer, for the first time in Southern fiction, to handle Negro characters with as much ease and justice of those of her own race. This cannot be accounted for stylistically or politically; it seems to stem from an attitude toward life.”—Richard Wright

"When one puts [this book] down, it is with . . . a feeling of having been nourished by the truth."—May Sarton

"A remarkable book . . . [McCullers] writes with a sweep and certainty that are overwhelming." The New York Times

"Quite remarkable . . . McCullers leaves her characters hauntingly engraved in the reader's memory." The Nation

"To me the most impressive aspect of 'The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter' is the astonishing humanity that enables a white writer, for the first time in Southern fiction, to handle Negro characters with as much ease and justice as those of her own race."—Richard Wright New Republic

"One cannot help remarking that this is an extraordinary novel to have been written by a young woman of twenty-two; but the more important fact is that it is an extraordinary novel in its own right, considerations of authorship apart."—Saturday Review of Literature Saturday Review

"The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter has remarkable power, sweep and certainty . . . Her art suggests a Van Gogh painting peopled with Faulkner figures." The New York Times Book Review

"Sensitively conceived and expertly told . . . Its quality as writing and the intensity of its theme combine to make it one of the outstanding novels of recent years."—Times-Picayune

"Besides telling a good story, the author has peopled it with a small group of characters so powerfully drawn as to linger long in memory." Philadelphia Inquirer

"[McCullers] writes with a calm and factual realism, and with a deep and abiding insight into human psychology. She does so without an iota of vulgarity and bawdiness, in a manner which many a present day novelist would do well to study." Boston Globe

"There is not only the delicately sensed need that one might expect youth to know but an even more delicately sensed ironic knowledge." The Chicago Tribune

"The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is a miracle of compassion, pity, and irony. Form and matter are perfectly blended in the novel."—Virginia Quarterly Review

The New York Times
A remarkable book . . . [McCullers] writes with a sweep and certainty that are overwhelming.
The Nation
Quite remarkable . . . McCullers leaves her characters hauntingly engraved in the reader's memory.
The New Republic
To me the most impressive aspect of 'The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter' is the astonishing humanity that enables a white writer, for the first time in Southern fiction, to handle Negro characters with as much ease and justice as those of her own race.
Richard Wright
Saturday Review of Literature
One cannot help remarking that this is an extraordinary novel to have been written by a young woman of twenty-two; but the more important fact is that it is an extraordinary novel in its own right, considerations of authorship apart.
Times - Picayune
Sensitively conceived and expertly told . . . Its quality as writing and the intensity of its theme combine to make it one of the outstanding novels of recent years.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Besides telling a good story, the author has peopled it with a small group of characters so powerfully drawn as to linger long in memory.
The Boston Globe
[McCullers] writes with a calm and factual realism, and with a deep and abiding insight into human psychology. She does so without an iota of vulgarity and bawdiness, in a manner which many a present day novelist would do well to study.
Chicago Daily Tribune
There is not only the delicately sensed need that one might expect youth to know but an even more delicately sensed ironic knowledge.
Virginia Quarterly Tribune
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is a miracle of compassion, pity, and irony. Form and matter are perfectly blended in the novel.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618526413
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/21/2004
  • Series: Oprah's Book Club Series
  • Edition description: None
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 37,347
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Carson McCullers (1917-1967) was the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including The Heart is a Lonely Hunter , The Member of the Wedding , Reflections in a Golden Eye , and Clock Without Hands . Born in Columbus, Georgia, on February 19, 1917, she became a promising pianist and enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music in New York when she was seventeen, but lacking money for tuition, she never attended classes. Instead she studied writing at Columbia University, which ultimately led to The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter , the novel that made her an overnight literary sensation. On September 29, 1967, at age fifty, she died in Nyack, New York, where she is buried.

Biography

Carson McCullers, novelist, short story writer, and playwright, was born Lula Carson Smith on February 19, 1917, in Columbus, Georgia, the daughter of Lamar Smith, a jewelry storeowner, and Vera Marguerite Waters. Best known for her novels The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, The Ballad of the Sad Café, Reflections in a Golden Eye, and The Member of the Wedding, McCullers also won awards for her adaptation of The Member of the Wedding for the Broadway stage. After completing high school, Carson studied for two years in New York before marrying James Reeves McCullers and moving to New York permanently upon the publication of her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, in 1940 when McCullers was only 23. Heralded as a wunderkind by critics, McCullers' most significant was published between 1943 and 1950. Plagued by a series of strokes attributed to a mis-diagnosed and untreated case of childhood rheumatic fever, McCullers died at age fifty in 1967. With a collection of work including five novels, two plays, twenty short stories, over two dozen nonfiction pieces, a book of children's verses, a small number of poems, and an unfinished autobiography, McCullers is considered among the most significant American writers of the twentieth-century.

Author biography courtesy of The Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians at Columbus State University, Columbus, GA.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Lula Carson Smith (birth name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 19, 1917
    2. Place of Birth:
      Columbus, Georgia
    1. Date of Death:
      November 29, 1967
    2. Place of Death:
      Nyack, New York

Read an Excerpt

1 In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together. Early every morning they would come out from the house where they lived and walk arm in arm down the street to work. The two friends were very different. The one who always steered the way was an obese and dreamy Greek. In the summer he would come out wearing a yellow or green polo shirt stuffed sloppily into his trousers in front and hanging loose behind. When it was colder he wore over this a shapeless gray sweater. His face was round and oily, with half-closed eyelids and lips that curved in a gentle, stupid smile. The other mute was tall. His eyes had a quick, intelligent expression. He was always immaculate and very soberly dressed.
Every morning the two friends walked silently together until they reached the main street of the town. Then when they came to a certain fruit and candy store they paused for a moment on the sidewalk outside. The Greek, Spiros Antonapoulos, worked for his cousin, who owned this fruit store. His job was to make candies and sweets, uncrate the fruits, and to keep the place clean. The thin mute, John Singer, nearly always put his hand on his friend’s arm and looked for a second into his face before leaving him. Then after this good-bye Singer crossed the street and walked on alone to the jewelry store where he worked as a silverware engraver.
In the late afternoon the friends would meet again. Singer came back to the fruit store and waited until Antonapoulos was ready to go home. The Greek would be lazily unpacking a case of peaches or melons, or perhaps looking at the funny paper in the kitchen behind the store where he cooked. Before their departure Antonapoulos always opened a paper sack he kept hidden during the day on one of the kitchen shelves. Inside were stored various bits of food he had collected—a piece of fruit, samples of candy, or the butt-end of a liverwurst. Usually before leaving Antonapoulos waddled gently to the glassed case in the front of the store where some meats and cheeses were kept. He glided open the back of the case and his fat hand groped lovingly for some particular dainty inside which he had wanted. Sometimes his cousin who owned the place did not see him. But if he noticed he stared at his cousin with a warning in his tight, pale face. Sadly Antonapoulos would shuffle the morsel from one corner of the case to the other. During these times Singer stood very straight with his hands in his pockets and looked in another direction. He did not like to watch this little scene between the two Greeks. For, excepting drinking and a certain solitary secret pleasure, Antonapoulos loved to eat more than anything else in the world.
In the dusk the two mutes walked slowly home together. At home Singer was always talking to Antonapoulos. His hands shaped the words in a swift series of designs. His face was eager and his gray-green eyes sparkled brightly. With his thin, strong hands he told Antonapoulos all that had happened during the day.
Antonapoulos sat back lazily and looked at Singer. It was seldom that he ever moved his hands to speak at all—and then it was to say that he wanted to eat or to sleep or to drink. These three things he always said with the same vague, fumbling signs. At night, if he were not too drunk, he would kneel down before his bed and pray awhile. Then his plump hands shaped the words ‘Holy Jesus,’ or ‘God,’ or ‘Darling Mary.’ These were the only words Antonapoulos ever said. Singer never knew just how much his friend understood of all the things he told him. But it did not matter.
They shared the upstairs of a small house near the business section of the town. There were two rooms. On the oil stove in the kitchen Antonapoulos cooked all of their meals. There were straight, plain kitchen chairs for Singer and an overstuffed sofa for Antonapoulos. The bedroom was furnished mainly with a large double bed covered with an eiderdown comforter for the big Greek and a narrow iron cot for Singer.
Dinner always took a long time, because Antonapoulos loved food and he was very slow. After they had eaten, the big Greek would lie back on his sofa and slowly lick over each one of his teeth with his tongue, either from a certain delicacy or because he did not wish to lose the savor of the meal—while Singer washed the dishes.
Sometimes in the evening the mutes would play chess. Singer had always greatly enjoyed this game, and years before he had tried to teach it to Antonapoulos. At first his friend could not be interested in the reasons for moving the various pieces about on the board. Then Singer began to keep a bottle of something good under the table to be taken out after each lesson. The Greek never got on to the errratic movements of the knights and the sweeping mobility of the queens, but he learned to make a few set, opening moves. He preferreeeeed the white pieces and would not play if the black men were given him. After the first moves Singer worked out the game by himself while his friend looked on drowsily. If Singer made brilliant attacks on his own men so that in the end the black king was killed, Antonapoulos was always very proud and pleased.
The two mutes had no other friends, and except when they worked they were alone together. Each day was very much like any other day, because they were alone so much that nothing ever disturbed them. Once a week they would go to the library for Singer to withdraw a mystery book and on Friday night they attended a movie. Then on payday they always went to the ten-cent photograph shop above the Army and Navy Store so that Antonapoulos could have his picture taken. These were the only places where they made customary visits. There were many parts in the town that they had never even seen.
The town was in the middle of the deep South. The summers were long and the months of winter cold were very few. Nearly always the sky was a glassy, brilliant azure and the sun burned down riotously bright. Then the light, chill rains of November would come, and perhaps later there would be frost and some short months of cold. The winters were changeable, but the summers always were burning hot. The town was a fairly large one. On the main street there were several blocks of two- and three-story shops and business offices. But the largest buildings in the town were the factories, which employed a large percentage of the population. These cotton mills were big and flourishing and most of the workers in the town were poor. Often in the faces along the streets there was the desperate look of hunger and of loneliness.
But the two mutes were not lonely at all. At home they were content to eat and drink, and Singer would talk with his hands eagerly to his friend about all that was in his mind. So the years passed in this quiet way until Singer reached the age of thirty-two and had been in the town with Antonapoulos for ten years.
Then one day the Greek became ill. He sat up in bed with his hands on his fat stomach and big, oily tears rolled down his cheeks. Singer went to see his friend’s cousin who owned the fruit store, and also he arranged for leave from his own work. The doctor made out a diet for Antonapoulos and said that he could drink no more wine. Singer rigidly enforced the doctor’s orders. All day he sat by his friend’s bed and did what he could to make the time pass quickly, but Antonapoulos only looked at him angrily from the corners of his eyes and would not be amused. The Greek was very fretful, and kept finding fault with the fruit drinks and food that Singer prepared for him. Constantly he made his friend help him out of bed so that he could pray. His huge buttocks would sag down over his plump little feet when he kneeled. He fumbled with his hands to say ‘Darling Mary’ and then held to the small brass cross tied to his neck with a dirty string. His big eyes would wall up to the ceiling with a look of fear in them, and afterward he was very sulky and would not let his friend speak to him.
Singer was patient and did all that he could. He drew little pictures, and once he made a sketch of his friend to amuse him. This picture hurt the big Greek’s feelings, and he refused to be reconciled until Singer had made his face very young and handsome and colored his hair bright yellow and his eyes china blue. And then he tried not to show his pleasure.
Singer nursed his friend so carefully that after a week Antonapoulos was able to return to his work. But from that time on there was a difference in their way of life. Trouble came to the two friends.
Antonapoulos was not ill any more, but a change had come in him. He was irritable and no longer content to spend the evenings quietly in their home. When he would wish to go out Singer followed along close behind him. Antonapoulos would go into a restaurant, and while they sat at the table he slyly put lumps of sugar, or a peppershaker, or pieces of silverware in his pocket. Singer always paid for what he took and there was no disturbance. At home he scolded Antonapoulos, but the big Greek only looked at him with a bland smile.
The months went on and these habits of Antonapoulos grew worse. One day at noon he walked calmly out of the fruit store of his cousin and urinated in public against the wall of the First National Bank Building across the street. At times he would meet people on the sidewalk whose faces did not please him, and he would bump into these persons and push at them with his elbows and stomach. He walked into a store one day and hauled out a floor lamp without paying for it, and another time he tried to take an electric train he had seen in a showcase.
For Singer this was a time of great distress. He was continually marching Antonapoulos down to the courthouse during lunch hour to settle these infringements of the law. Singer became very familiar with the procedure of the courts and he was in a constant state of agitation. The money he had saved in the bank was spent for bail and fines. All of his efforts and money were used to keep his friend out of jail because of such charges as theft, committing public indecencies, and assault and battery.
The Greek cousin for whom Antonapoulos worked did not enter into these troubles at all. Charles Parker (for that was the name this cousin had taken) let Antonapoulos stay on at the store, but he watched him always with his pale, tight face and he made no effort to help him. Singer had a strange feeling about Charles Parker. He began to dislike him.
Singer lived in continual turmoil and worry. But Antonapoulos was always bland, and no matter what happened the gentle, flaccid smile was still on his face. In all the years before it had seemed to Singer that there was something very subtle and wise in this smile of his friend. He had never known just how much Antonapoulos understood and what he was thinking. Now in the big Greek’s expression Singer thought that he could detect something sly and joking. He would shake his friend by the shoulders until he was very tired and explain things over and over with his hands. But nothing did any good.
All of Singer’s money was gone and he had to borrow from the jeweler for whom he worked. On one occasion he was un- able to pay bail for his friend and Antonapoulos spent the night in jail. When Singer came to get him out the next day he was very sulky. He did not want to leave. He had enjoyed his dinner of sowbelly and cornbread with syrup poured over it. And the new sleeping arrangements and his cellmates pleased him.
They had lived so much alone that Singer had no one to help him in his distress. Antonapoulos let nothing disturb him or cure him of his habits. At home he sometimes cooked the new dish he had eaten in the jail, and on the streets there was never any knowing just what he would do.
And then the final trouble came to Singer.
One afternoon he had come to meet Antonapoulos at the fruit store when Charles Parker handed him a letter. The letter explained that Charles Parker had made arrangements for his cousin to be taken to the state insane asylum two hundred miles away. Charles Parker had used his influence in the town and the details were already settled. Antonapoulos was to leave and to be admitted into the asylum the next week.
Singer read the letter several times, and for a while he could not think. Charles Parker was talking to him across the counter, but he did not even try to read his lips and understand. At last Singer wrote on the little pad he always carried in his pocket:

You cannot do this. Antonapoulos must stay with me.

Charles Parker shook his head excitedly. He did not know much American. ‘None of your business,’ he kept saying over and over.
Singer knew that everything was finished. The Greek was afraid that some day he might be responsible for his cousin. Charles Parker did not know much about the American language—but he understood the American dollar very well, and he had used his money and influence to admit his cousin to the asylum without delay.
There was nothing Singer could do.
The next week was full of feverish activity. He talked and talked. And although his hands never paused to rest he could not tell all that he had to say. He wanted to talk to Antonapoulos of all the thoughts that had ever been in his mind and heart, but there was not time. His gray eyes glittered and his quick, intelligent face expressed great strain. Antonapoulos watched him drowsily, and his friend did not know just what he really understood.
Then came the day when Antonapoulos must leave. Singer brought out his own suitcase and very carefully packed the best of their joint possessions. Antonapoulos made himself a lunch to eat during the journey. In the late afternoon they walked arm in arm down the street for the last time together. It was a chilly afternoon in late November, and little huffs of breath showed in the air before them.
Charles Parker was to travel with his cousin, but he stood apart from them at the station. Antonapoulos crowded into the bus and settled himself with elaborate preparations on one of the front seats. Singer watched him from the window and his hands began desperately to talk for the last time with his friend. But Antonapoulos was so busy checking over the various items in his lunch box that for a while he paid no attention. Just before the bus pulled away from the curb he turned to Singer and his smile was very bland and remote—as though alreay they were many miles apart.
The weeks that followed didn’t seem real at all. All day Singer worked over his bench in the back of the jewelry store, and then at night he returned to the house alone. More than anything he wanted to sleep. As soon as he came home from work he would lie on his cot and try to doze awhile. Dreams came to him when he lay there half-asleep. And in all of them Antonapoulos was there. His hands would jerk nervously, for in his dreams he was talking to his friend and Antonapoulos was watching him.
Singer tried to think of the time before he had ever known his friend. He tried to recount to himself certain things that had happened when he was young. But none of these things he tried to remember seemed real.
There was one particular fact that he remembered, but it was not at all important to him. Singer recalled that, although he had been deaf since he was an infant, he had not always been a real mute. He was left an orphan very young and placed in an institution for the deaf. He had learned to talk with his hands and to read. Before he was nine years old he could talk with one hand in the American way—and also could employ both of his hands after the method of Europeans. He had learned to follow the movements of people’s lips and to understand what they said. Then finally he had been taught to speak.
At the school he was thought very intelligent. He learned the lessons before the rest of the pupils. But he could never become used to speaking with his lips. It was not natural to him, and his tongue felt like a whale in his mouth. From the blank expression on people’s faces to whom he talked in this way he felt that his voice must be like the sound of some animal or that there was something disgusting in his speech. It was painful for him to try to talk with his mouth, but his hands were always ready to shape the words he wished to say. When he was twenty-two he had come south to this town from Chicago and he met Antonapoulos immediately. Since that time he had never spoken with his mouth again, because with his friend there was no need for this.
Nothing seemed real except the ten years with Antonapoulos. In his half-dreams he saw his friend very vividly, and when he awakened a great aching loneliness would be in him. Occasionally he would pack up a box for Antonapoulos, but he never received any reply. And so the months passed in this empty, dreaming way.
In the spring a change came over Singer. He could not sleep and his body was very restless. At evening he would walk monotonously around the room, unable to work off a new feeling of energy. If he rested at all it was only during a few hours before dawn—then he would drop bluntly into a sleep that lasted until the morning light struck suddenly beneath his opening eyelids like a scimitar.
He began spending his evenings walking around the town. He could no longer stand the rooms where Antonapoulos had lived, and he rented a place in a shambling boardinghouse not far from the center of the town.
He ate his meals at a restaurant only two blocks away. This restaurant was at the very end of the long main street and the name of the place was the New York Café. The first day he glanced over the menu quickly and wrote a short note and handed it to the proprietor.

Each morning for breakfast I want an egg, toast, and coffee—$0.15 For lunch I want soup (any kind), a meat sandwich, and milk—$0.25 Please bring me at dinner three vegetables (any kind but cabbage), fish or meat, and a glass of beer—$0.35 Thank you.

The proprietor read the note and gave him an alert, tactful glance. He was a hard man of middle height, with a beard so dark and heavy that the lower part of his face looked as though it were molded of iron. He usually stood in the corner by the cash register, his arms folded over his chest, quietly observing all that went on around him. Singer came to know this man’s face very well, for he ate at one of his tables three times a day.
Each evening the mute walked alone for hours in the street. Sometimes the nights were cold with the sharp, wet winds of March and it would be raining heavily. But to him this did not matter. His gait was agitated and he always kept his hands stuffed tight into the pockets of his trousers. Then as the weeks passed the days grew warm and languorous. His agitation gave way gradually to exhaustion and there was a look about him of deep calm. In his face there came to be a brooding peace that is seen most often in the faces of the very sorrowful or the very wise. But still he wandered through the streets of the town, always silent and alone.

Copyright 1940 by Carson Smith McCullers. Copyright renewed © 1967 by Carson McCullers. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

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Table of Contents

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Reading Group Guide

An Introduction from the Publisher
When The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers's literary debut, was first published by Houghton Mifflin, on June 4, 1940, the twenty-three-year-old author became a literary sensation virtually overnight. The novel is considered McCullers's finest work, an enduring masterpiece that was chosen by the Modern Library as one of the top one hundred works of fiction published in the twentieth century.

Set in a small Southern mill town in the 1930s, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is a haunting, unforgettable story that gives voice to the rejected, the forgotten, and the mistreated. At the novel's center is the deaf-mute John Singer, who is left alone after his friend and roommate, Antonapoulos, is sent away to an asylum. Singer moves into a boarding house and begins taking his meals at the local diner, and in this new setting he becomes the confidant of several social outcasts and misfits. Drawn to Singer's kind eyes and attentive demeanor are Mick Kelly, a spirited young teenager with dreams greater than her economic means; Jake Blount, an itinerant social reformer with a penchant for drink and violence; Biff Brannon, the childless proprietor of the local café; and Dr. Copeland, a proud black intellectual whose unwavering ideals have left him alienated from those who love him.

With its profound sense of moral isolation, compassionate glimpses into its characters' inner lives, and deft portrayal of racial tensions in the South, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is considered one of the most extraordinary debuts in modern American literature. Richard Wright praised McCullers for her ability "to rise above the pressures of her environment and embrace white and black humanity in one sweep of apprehension and tenderness." The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is Carson McCullers at her endearing best, and just as timely and powerful today as when it was first published.

Questions for Discussion
We hope the following questions will stimulate discussion for reading groups and provide a deeper understanding of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter for every reader.

1. The title of the book comes from a poem by William Sharp, with the lines "But my heart is a lonely hunter that hunts / On a lonely hill." What is the significance of the title? Is each character in the novel hunting the same thing, or is each in search of something different? McCullers's original title for the book was The Mute. Why do you suppose the change was made?

2. McCullers describes John Singer as "an emotional catalyst for all the other characters." What does his presence inspire in others? Do you believe that he remains inert, as a catalyst by definition should, or is he himself affected by his interactions with the others? Why or why not?

3. McCullers once described the central characters in the novel as "heroic, though ordinary." How does each character show elements of heroism? Is there a character you find more heroic than the rest?

4. In the book's first section, Biff's wife, Alice, quotes Mark 1:16–18: "Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men." How does this quote resonate throughout the novel? What role does spirituality play in the novel? Do the characters strive for communion with a higher spiritual force or unifying principle, something greater than themselves?

5. Music has great importance in the book, from Mick's aspirations to become a pianist to Willie's ever-present harmonica. McCullers, who had once hoped to study music at Juilliard, even described the structure of the novel as a three-part fugue, and explained, "Like a voice in a fugue, each one of the main characters is an entity in himself — but his personality takes on a new richness when contrasted and woven in with the other characters in the book." In what other ways does this musicality assert itself in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter? What does music symbolize in the novel? How, too, is silence used?

6. The novel has been widely praised for its ability to illustrate how social, economic, and racial factors serve to isolate people from one another. In what way is each character isolated? What efforts does each make to overcome this alienation? Are the efforts successful or ultimately futile?

7. John Singer dreams he is kneeling before Antonapoulos, who stands at the head of a set of stairs. Behind Singer kneel the four other main characters: Mick, Biff, Jake, and Copeland. How does Singer's dream reflect the relationships among the main characters? To what extent is Singer's love of Antonapoulos similar to the attention paid to Singer by Mick, Biff, Jake, and Copeland? Are these characters capable of loving one another? Of receiving love? Are some characters better emotionally equipped than others? Why or why not?

8. Mick Kelly is considered the most autobiographical character McCullers ever created. Mick's tomboyishness, her musical aspirations, and her dream to escape small-town life parallel the author's own. When Mick realizes she cannot afford a violin, she tries to build her own. What does the violin symbolize? What does this act tell you about Mick's character? Do you have sympathy for her when she fails? Do you feel closer to Mick than you do to the other narrators?

9. Mick compartmentalizes her thoughts into what she calls an inner room and an outer room. Why does she do this? Do other characters show this same type of duality? How does it manifest itself?

10. When Jake Blount finds a Bible passage written on a wall, he responds with his own message and then searches for the person who wrote the original message. Why is it important to him to find that person?

11. Dr. Copeland has great dreams for his family and for his community, but he is unable to gain much support for his ideas. Do you think Copeland's self-perception that he is a failure is valid? How many of his frustrations are a result of racial bias in society? Why do you suppose his relationships with his children are fraught?

12. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter has been praised for its sensitive and realistic portrayal of racial tensions in the Depression-era South. What relevance does the novel have today? How much has changed since the 1930s? (Hougton Mifflin)
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 151 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2011

    Beautiful work of art.

    I read this book sophomore year in high school for my English honors class, and at first I was skeptical, but the characters grew on me, with complex, developed personalities, and although it has a depressing touch, I fell utterly in love with this book, and Singer. This book made me cry, laugh and think about life in a different perspective. I recommend this book to teens and adults. You won't regret it.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    the heart is a lonely hunter

    honestly i read this book after watching "a love song for bobby long" in which scarlett johansson's character reads it. i know, not really a good excuse for picking up a book. but it was also on a booklist of books every person should read before they die. so i was really excited to read it.

    overall it was a decent book. worth reading once i guess, but definitely not one i'd be likely to pick up again. it had it's moments where i couldn't put it down (towards the end) and then moments where it literally made me want to take a nap after about 10 pages.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    SAD, INTERESTING, NOT GREAT.

    I read tons of "pulp" novels, and I've started adding some classics to my wish list, largely to see if the books I abhorred in high school would be more enjoyable if they were not assigned reading. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter was no better now.<BR/>As a character study it is superb; the main characters are deep, believable, and unique. I understood the characters, or at least why they didn't understand themselves. Each chapter with Mr. Singer made me smile with anticipation while I waited for something magical to happen to make the characters happy.<BR/>That was the problem with the book. Each chapter barely moves the story forward, and in the end nothing happens. There is so much potential for characters to talk and understand and change, but it never happens and the potential hangs over the entire book like a cloud. The book simply ends. No character is better off than they were in the beginning, no character's life path is appreciably changed from those of their next door neighbors. In short, with the exception of Mr. Singer, there was no reason to write about these characters in terms of their participation in events that are worth writing about. <BR/>The book was not a labor to get through, but I was largely unsatisfied with the resolution. I don't need a happy ending, but atleast give me a sense that the previous 200 pages somewhat affected that ending.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2009

    Despised This Novel...

    I read the novel description and thought, "Hey, I think I'll really enjoy this book!" I began reading it with anticipation and an open mind and was overall very disappointed. I thought the dialects were poorly represented and the story progression was incredibly slow. The characters were developed fairly well, but their conflicts petty and solved immaturly if at all. I had to push myself to finish it and when I finally did, I did not get anything out of it. Maybe I didn't look hard enough for the point, but I find the peroiod of my life I spent reading this novel to be a waste of my time.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2014

    First published in 1940

    This is a reprint of a book, first published in 1940. I too, had to read this book in high school. I liked it very much, but even 30 years ago, it seemed dated...oh my gosh.....after thinking about HS being 30 years ago, I feel dated also. GEECH! If you are interested in reading this book ( if you like nice, clean, classical reads) I recommend you save your money and get it from the library or second hand shop. This is rather costly for a book published 85 years ago.

    AD

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 15, 2013

    Highly Recommended - Must Read

    The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers is the 2013 selection for the Big Read project that is sponsored by the NEA to encourage reading in communities throughout the US. In an interview, the author, McCullers, stated that the form for this book is inspired by a musical form,the fugue. A fugue contains a single motif or several motifs that are repeated over and over again throughout the piece. In the novel, the motif is loneliness which is acted out by the central character John Singer who is deaf and mute. The other main characters, Biff, Mick, Dr. Copeland, and Jake struggle with their individual form of loneliness and seek out Mr. Singer who, ironically, is the only person with whom they can communicate and the only person who also understands them. Set in an unnamed Georgia Mill town, the novel opens up a door to another time and place where attitudes towards people with disabilities, different religions, different ethnicities,and surprising political views are dramatically different from today. Published more than 70 years ago, this book is worth taking a look at in 2013.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2012

    Inspired

    This book speaks of the lonely jorney we all take as we try to find that connection with a person who truly understands us, but not just that it goes into each characters dreames, fears and troubles. :)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 22, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    What an Amazing Novel!

    I used to attend college in Columbus (at Columbus State University), the city in which McCullers grew up. Our university owns her house and we often times host events their. We have her books all around the house and I finally decided to read one. I chose The Heart is A Lonely Hunter because I had heard that it was the best representation of McCullers work.<BR/><BR/>It took me a while to get through this particular book but when I finished I was like: Wow, that touched me on a whole other level. Carson McCullers' character development is extraordinary. At the end I really cared for the characters and their ultimate fate. Also, McCullers' dialects, that are present in the novel, proves her strength as a writer. <BR/><BR/>Author Mylene Dressler spent some time living in McCullers' home as part of an upcoming artist program at the university. I have listed some her novels in the "I Also Recommend" section.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2008

    A Very Good Read

    Got this book as a gift from a used book store. I would not have chose it as a read of choice. Now I am glad I did. Sad, but well written. I would recommend this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2008

    Nothing happens....and Everything Happens

    I usually fly through most reads, but this is one novel that took me some time to get through. It was a book that I could easily put down, and yet felt compelled over and over again to pick up again the next day. It seemed little really happened in the book--and yet, EVERYTHING happened. It's difficult to explain. What did I take away from it? We are all looking for that one person, one connection that completely understands us. We yearn for that someone who can see into our souls and understand all those things we can't always even put into words. Four of the main characters each thought they found that person in Mr. Singer. And Mr. Singer thought he found that in his friend, the Greek. And yet they all deluded themselves. No matter how much we reach out to others, the human condition is at its deepest level, a lonely one. Most importantly, I can only touch the surface of what I took away from this story. Much like Mick, who would pound her fists in frustration at what she felt in her heart but could never express, this is a book that calls for understanding on a very different level.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2007

    Beautifully written!

    This was one of my summer reading books for my sophomore year Honors English class. I also found that the picture of McCullers on the front cover stared me down until I picked it up. When I first began reading, I found the book a little bit difficult to get into. However, in chapter two, the introduction of some new characters grabbed my attention, and held it from then on. McCullers spins a captivating tale of five social outcasts and their struggle against isolation. Each character is searching for someone that will accept and understand them. One thing I liked about this novel was that all of the characters are easily understood, and I was able to relate them to myself or someone I know. McCullers accomplished this through the use of different viewpoints. This book provided an interesting view of the South, covering a wide range of aspects of life in that time, from racial and non-racial prejudices, to the daily struggles of an average family to make ends meet, to the trials and tribulations of growing up. McCullers intertwines all of this beautifully into a melancholy tale, teaching readers about human emotion. She carefully develops characters and their conflicts, which in turn support the themes that shape this story. I recommend this piece of literature to all readers.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2007

    The Search for a Purpose

    The emptiness, the longing, the loneliness, is portrayed by Carson McCullers through her novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Introducing characters like Mick, Singer, Blount, and Doctor Copeland, she dives into the everyday lives of each, revealing the innermost secrets of their hearts. Rather than giving stories of happenings, she illustrates the struggles and battles of the minds of individuals that draw the readers to connect with the characters. For me, I found pleasure in befriending these characters and getting to know them, finding similarities in which I could relate to. These unique characters are dramatized sketches of humans in reality these feelings of frustration and an unknown probing of the heart do exist commonly among us. It comforted me that these problems were shared by others too, and that I was definitely not alone in my stand. McCullers shows the needs for purpose in life, and portrays the anticipation and excitement of holding a deep passion inside, something to live and die for. As I read this book, without reason, this feeling of renewed freshness aroused within me, and I gained encouragement in my loneliness to continue to strive for something. Even though some of the characters met unfortunate outcomes, McCullers used them to bring me a different kind of hope and strength.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2007

    Great!!

    I read this book for summer reading in my sophmore year of highschool. This was a book that I did not think I would like, but from page one until the end, I was hooked. The cover itself looks very intimidating, but when I picked it up and read the back I thought 'This looks interesting'. One of the last things a kid wants to do is read a long summer reading book, but this one was worth it. Reading for long periods of time, without even realizing the hours that have gone by is just part of this heart felt story. I felt that I could relate to some of the characters in the novel as well. Being a teen girl helped me relate to a lot of the problems that Mick struggled with throughout the story. Also, my little brother happens to be deaf 'but not muted' and often reads lips which helped me understand Singer's character too. When McCullers talks about the intricate designs that Singer makes with his hands, it reminds me of my little brother talking in sign language to his friends at school. In addition, reading about Carson McCullers's life after finishing the book made me more interested in what went on. Carson McCullers has many connections in the novel to her depressing and tragic life, which made me even more interested. The characters, themes, setting, and conflict assisted in supporting and evolving this deep, touching story. I recommend this book to everyone.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2007

    brilliant

    it's really great. is a bit slow, but it makes up for it in the writing. simple.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2007

    The Heart is a Lonely Hunter-really, it is

    When I first started reading this book, I didn¿t think I would like it very much. Usually, I don¿t like to read books that are based on events that happened in the past. I also don¿t usually like southern based books, but I thought I would give it a try. I actually ended up really liking it. I was educated on ways of the south by reading about the different character¿s lives. I ended up growing with each of the characters as well. I could relate to almost every one of them. It was interesting reading about a time in which there was racial problem and the ways they healed themselves through music. The ending was depressing, but it teaches you about human emotion.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2007

    A reviewer

    Southern literature has always fascinated me. From Faulkner to Childress I don't seem to be able to get enough. While I enjoy O'Connor enough, I find McCullers so much more accesible. The story of a lonely girl--a coming-of-age-story really--THE HEART is one of my favorite books. The protagonist lives in a boarding house that her mother runs, and upstairs lives a mute. In the town, there are two of the--mutes--and the main character makes, or rather 'tries' to make friends with the one in the house. She plays records for him and we feel her frustration at trying to make him understand what music is. Since he's deaf, he can't comprehend. The girl is frustrated on so many levels: She feels trapped by the small southern town she lives in, she wants to be a musician and really has no outlet for this, even making a makeshift violin out of a cigar box, she has a bratty little brother, and she feels that no one understands her. I would equate this book to other great southern classics such as 'To Kill A Mockingbird' by Lee or McCrae's 'Bark of the Dogwood' as they too are coming of age books, each one totally different. If you have a heart you'll love 'THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER.'

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 27, 2014

    The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is the first novel by Carson McCull

    The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is the first novel by Carson McCullers, she rose to fame with it at the young age of twenty-three in 1940. It's considered a masterpiece, and her finest work. I didn't get it. Truthfully, I marked it as &quot;did not finish&quot; and went on to other books. I came back to it because of the reviews, thinking maybe the ending was spectacular.

    The book depicts small town America in the 1930s. Noone has much money, nothing exciting goes on. Everyone has big dreams that don't come true and they end up bitter and disappointed. The story is dark and depressing, which may have been the author's intent, but it made the book very hard to read.


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  • Posted July 1, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    The disparate lives of five people come together when a gay, dea

    The disparate lives of five people come together when a gay, deaf man takes a room in a boarding house and befriends them all. Set in a southern mill town during the 1930's, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, explores the desperation that we all experience when we feel that we are alone in the world.

    I first read this book when I was in high school, about thirty-three years ago. Although there were some subtleties that I didn't pick up on (such as the fact that the character John Singer is gay), I was profoundly moved by the lives of each character and the loneliness and hopelessness they all felt. For a book in which very little happens, the story is gripping. Every character - from an elderly African-American doctor to a thirteen-year-old white girl - is written with such compassion and insight that I felt that I knew them all intimately.

    Unfortunately, the book is heartbreaking, and the end leaves the reader with a sense of hopelessness. It's a book that stayed with me back when I was fourteen, and a book that continues to live within me all this time later.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 2, 2012

    Love Carson McCullers!! I read ""The Heart is a Lonely

    Love Carson McCullers!! I read &quot;&quot;The Heart is a Lonely Hunter&quot;&quot; many moons ago and it is still one of my all time favorites. Def a 5 Star Rating for me!!

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  • Posted May 17, 2012

    Now one of my favorite books. I probably wont read another of h

    Now one of my favorite books. I probably wont read another of her books as I'm not sure if her others have such a powerful impact as this one.

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