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GROUP READ: [The Heart is a Lonely Hunter]

2013 Category Challenge

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Edited: Aug 18, 2013, 8:08pm Top

Welcome to the Group Read thread of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. Just a little housekeeping rule to avoid hitting spoilers while you're reading, please put the section (3 sections) and chapter that you have either read to or are talking about to start off your post. If you are making general comments, in no way spoilery, you can start off your comment as "general."

Just as a general question for thought, The Heart was Carson McCuller's first novel, and she was only 23 at the time it was published. Now I've heard (heard, can't site a study) that most scientific advances are discovered by young (men) because their brains are physically young and still developing and they are more likely to think in new ways. If this is true for men, I think it must be true for women too. If it is true for science, it must be true for literature too... although I sort of resist the notion because according to this, I am too old to be likely to make a scientific discovery now. I, however, am not old enough to remember 1940 novels as they hit the public, but the question is did Carson McCullers, because of her youth and perhaps naivete, develop something particularly new and ground breaking when she wrote The Heart is a Lonely Hunter?

And just to get us into 1940, here is a list of novels that were published then:
Call it Courage by Armstrong Sperry
Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
Native Son by Richard Wright
The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
Synthetic Men of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Wonder City of Oz by L. Frank Baum
World's End by Upton Sinclair
You Can't Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe

Aug 18, 2013, 8:22pm Top

Section 1, Ch 1 I have to admit, I've never read a novel with an intimate description of the friendship between two deaf mutes before. Matter of fact, I don't think I've read a novel where a deaf mute was a significant character. Beautifully done, with a sweeping time frame - stepping back to Singer's school years to the devastating end due to mental illness/dementia. The friendship alone could've been a novel. I especially liked the subtlety with which she handled Antonapoulus's mental state - he was never too communicative, it was never known how much he understood but he loved playing chess with Singer, especially when Singer deliberately lost. I can just imagine singer doing something quite illegal in order to get his king into checkmate. - I, personally, would be afraid to write this chapter today. I'd feel that if I didn't portray the inner life of a deaf mute just right, that I could get in trouble with the PC police. Although, I don't see anything wrong or disrespectful in what she wrote. Earlier this year, I read Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language about the deafness that was prevalent in Martha's Vineyard and the way the society had adapted into a bilingual, sign and speech, society. It was talking about a time 100 years previous to The Heart, but at that time the general population of the US believed that someone deaf and dumb would also be feeble minded. Well, yes, Antonapoulus did become unable to function independently, but Singer's characterization is anything but feeble minded. I don't think McCullers fell into stereotypes at all.

Aug 18, 2013, 8:33pm Top

Section 1, Ch 2 Blount makes me really uncomfortable. In real life, I have a friend who is about 1 week away from getting her divorce finalized. Her husband is alcoholic. I've watched him go from an intelligent man who can be a tad passive-aggressive, but is basically a good guy to I don't know what! A scarecrow that never says anything nice when he is awake and "sociable," which isn't often. In the US, our attitude towards alcoholism is that it is an illness. The alcoholic goes to treatment whether by their choice or someone else's. If treatment fails, they need to hit bottom. Then they will either be ready to try treatment again, or they will die. Alcoholism is a fatal disease.

In this section, I have no doubts that Blount is an alcoholic, but what Biff is doing is enabling him. Why would you give him a space to stay, more booze, and protect him from the police? Especially when he's not even a relative or an old friend? I think McCullers is depicting Biff as a man of compassion, and Singer too, but in my mind I'm all with the wife. I would've cut him off drinking the minute it hit credit. I, personally, would consider it a kindness to let the police handle it. After all, neither Biff or Singer has the experience and knowledge it takes to get someone sober... but it seems that they think they do. I think I'm having trouble getting into the mindset of 1940, and I haven't even mentioned the two African American characters. I'm not saying Carson McCullers is racist, but she sure is depicting a racist society.

Aug 19, 2013, 9:30am Top

I'm skipping comments for a bit, but wanted to say that I have my copy in hand and plan to begin it tomorrow. The kids start school on Thursday, so free time can be seen in the distance!

I've read McCullers's short stories and liked them quite a bit - enough to buy a nice copy. I'm excited to finally have a push to read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter!

Aug 19, 2013, 5:07pm Top

This is one of my favorite novels, so I plan to lurk a bit if that's okay.

Aug 19, 2013, 5:32pm Top

Hi Ridgeway - I got her short stories at a library booksale, but haven't had a chance to read them. You'll have a little extra to say because you can compare Heart to her short stories.

Ellen, great to have you! Feel free to lurk or comment as the spirit moves you.

Section 1, Chapter 3 I really like Portia Chapter 4 and her father.

Aug 20, 2013, 10:20am Top

I just downloaded my copy on my kindle so here we go.

Aug 21, 2013, 1:15pm Top

Section 1, Chapter 1 I feel the exact same way about this chapter as you Katie.

Section 1, Chapter 2 Blount is an alcoholic but it sound like he may be drinking to mask mental illness? This is as far as I've got.

I really feel as if I'm there. I don't always feel that way with books so I am always delighted when I do.

Aug 21, 2013, 9:47pm Top

Luv - I'm really not sure what to think about Blount??? I'm in section 2 now, and he doesn't show up much but... he is an odd one and no one but Singer seems to listen to him.

Edited: Aug 22, 2013, 11:12pm Top

I'm debating whether to join in on this group read. I've always wanted to read this book, and never gotten around to it. I think it's available at the library.

Aug 22, 2013, 11:38pm Top

Terri - Get the book from the library and try it on for size. If you don't really get into it well you can still follow us along for company.

Aug 23, 2013, 10:14am Top

Actually Terri this book flows really fast and easy I think you would enjoy it.

Aug 24, 2013, 4:37am Top

chapter one was brilliant. McCullers has that rare ability to describe someone vividly in just a few sentences.

Aug 24, 2013, 9:33pm Top

Section 1 General I do like Portia. She is a peacemaker and nurturer. My heart aches for Mick. I don't know quite what to make of Singer.

I just started Section 2.

Edited: Aug 25, 2013, 6:36pm Top

Section 1 General Yes, Mick has a really tough life. She doesn't seem to sleep, she's so busy! and, Luv, I'm thinking you are right on Blount being mentally ill. There's more on him in section two that makes me think you're onto something. & Singer? He's a strange one. People are almost treating him as a secular confessor, because he doesn't judge them and he won't repeat their secrets. Yet it seems like half the time, he isn't really listening and he could be accepting his visitors out of politeness then for any other reason.

Aug 26, 2013, 9:31am Top

Gah!! I'm finally going to start reading this today, and then I'll come back and read all the wonderful comments.

Aug 27, 2013, 10:08am Top

Yes I like Portia but not sure what to think about her Father the Dr. But if the Dr had consumption aka TB then wasnt he just giving it to others on his house calls??? Mick I see her as a girl that is in her awkward years that has no idea who she is yet. Mr Singer is the most interesting character so far just dont know what to think about him and BTW what kinda job does he have did I miss that???

Aug 27, 2013, 11:51am Top

#17 Mr. Singer engraves at a jeweler shop.

Aug 27, 2013, 2:33pm Top

Oh yeah now I remember. Thank Luv!!

Aug 27, 2013, 6:57pm Top

17 I thought that about TB too. It is contagious, but it also thrives in dark, humid places so if his patients are in well ventilated places, they'd be okay. But I doubt his patients do live in well ventilated places, and it sounds like winter is certainly rainy. The Dr. is an odd one. Very idealistic, but he isn't particularly good with people. Matter of fact, he's horrid with people, especially his own family. It reminds me of the old joke, I think this came from Peanuts: I love mankind, it's just people I can't stand.

Aug 28, 2013, 8:58am Top

Finished this book last night. I'll share specific thoughts later. I do have to say that RL has been difficult for me this past year. This book makes me realize how truly blessed I am. I am blessed in spirit. The self imposed loneliness in this book is heartbreaking.

Aug 28, 2013, 9:04pm Top

Yeah!!! You're the first one done! I've been pacing myself - I read a few Spanish short stories.

On the TB question, I have a friend who did her masters on TB so I asked her. She said if he was in truly in remission, he would not be contagious, but the remission could end at any time. However, if he was coughing blood, he was not in remission. A doctor in 1940 would have known he was contagious. However, there were some areas, especially in the US South, where TB was so widespread that it wouldn't have mattered much. Most of his patients would have already had it/been exposed to it. Also consider that he was probably the only doctor around for that particular population. - Puts an odd twist to his character for sure.

I'm on Section 2, Chapter 7 right now, and am thinking that many fantasy novelists have attempted writing the character that is as each character perceives them to be. McCullers isn't writing fantasy, but she has successfully done that with Singer. Each of the 4 thinks they know him, but they really don't. He is as each of them wants him to be, which is why when they are all in the room, it is incredibly awkward and no one says anything. They view him as he views Antonapoulis - which isn't an accurate picture. Here's a paragraph from page 173:

This was the friend to whom he told all that was in his heart. This was the Antonapoulos who no one knew was wise but him. As the year passed his friend seemed to grow larger in his mind, and his face looked out in a very grave and subtle way from the darkness at night. The memories of his friend changed in his mind so that he remembered nothing that was wrong or foolish--only the wise and good.
OMG, sniff. This is sort of like making an imaginary friend out of a real person.

Aug 29, 2013, 10:51am Top

With the TB issue with him coughing blood and running fevers and him even having X-Rays and knows that he is getting worst I would think he is being a bit irresponsible of exposing others. Plus he is just a curious character period with his relationship with his children and then the Karl Marx rambling. And didnt he even name one of his boys Karl Marx?

Im not sure what I think of Antonapoulos he seems a moody little guy. But really looking forward to the rest of the book.

Aug 30, 2013, 4:11am Top

I've only finished the third chapter, but I am enjoying how each chapter is a perfect short story on its own. It slows down my reading, though. It's a chapter at a time, for now.

Aug 31, 2013, 10:32am Top

Katie I sort of plowed through the book because I had some time off and the story just flowed. I'm glad I did. Life was hard back then. I reviewed it on my thread but the book runs deep and my review did not do it justice. It was more thoughts than a proper review. I will wait until more have finished reading the book to share my thoughts here.

Enjoy your Labor Day weekend everyone.

Aug 31, 2013, 12:03pm Top

Alwinn, I think you're on to something. He's so driven that he becomes irresponsible. Matter of fact, there are many characters that are very driven but so flawed in other ways that they get nothing done. Blount for one.

moody little guy I like that description! He's huge, he's moody, but he's a little child inside an adult body. I'm sure he had what today we call a "developmental disability" and then when he got older, he had early onset of some sort of dementia. Which gives you a child in an adult body to contrast with Mick who is a naive adult in a child's body.

Kay, that's a great way to think of the novel! It does read like related short stories. It doesn't really have a master plot, more like questions that run through the whole book with little plots for some of the chapters.

Luv, I finished yesterday so I'll run over to your thread to see your review. I finished too and am not really sure what to think. Spoilers I was really shocked by the death of you know who. He was the center that brought all the characters together and when he died, things started to unravel. In a way, the novel was shaped more like a horror novel than a standard novel with the end breaking out of control and coming apart instead of tying up nicely together. I'm not sure Biff's ceaseless search for odd characters did it for me. It puts a theme on the book that fits with the title, but it didn't give me a sense of closure. Like you, I felt the end was filled with futility and loneliness, and a type of loneliness that could be made better if people reached out a little more and communicated a little better.

Sep 6, 2013, 10:02am Top

Finished this book last night.

Funny how Singer was the center for all the other characters but Antonapoulos was the center of Singers life. And when Antonapoulos was gone there just wasnt anything left to live for. All the other characters used Singer as a free therapist they could tell him any and everything but since most of the time he wasnt even listening to what they had to say there was no fear of him repeating anything. The Character I feel for the most is Mick now that she has a job she feels stuck and her life is over at the sad age of 15.

Sep 6, 2013, 2:39pm Top

I finished this book last night. I'm so glad there was a group read because it would have not been read for some time otherwise. It's not exactly Fried Green Tomatoes, was it?

Life was so desperate for so many during the Great Depression. And the mill owners knew how to exploit people's deeperation for their own benefit. I could understand Blount's frustration and descent into drunkeness. But, man, what a wrong-headed idea!

This was a great book. I'll have to read more by McCullers and reread the short stories.

Sep 7, 2013, 3:48pm Top

I'll read the short stories too. I'm still amazed at how insightful McCullers was at such a young age. It felt as though she knew someone like each of the characters.

Sep 8, 2013, 3:10pm Top

She went to study at Julliard, but had to quit when her health deteriorated. So Mick's desire for music had a source. I wonder if Blount was personal, too, since she was a heavy drinker later in her short life. Everyone longs for a drink in this book, too, did you notice?

Sep 8, 2013, 10:42pm Top

That's too bad that she had to quit Julliard, but we probably wouldn't have had her as a writer then. She would've been a famous something musical. I hope Blount wasn't too personal!!!

Sep 9, 2013, 8:59am Top

Yeah I noticed that too even Mick was drinking beer at the ripe age of 16....

Sep 9, 2013, 9:13am Top

And it was a time when very young children could play around with a rifle that everyone knew was loaded. An occasional beer for the toddlers seems almost harmless.

Sep 10, 2013, 11:15pm Top

And cigarettes too! - The WWII generation did drink in a way we don't now. Even in the '70s, at our family parties, someone was always drinking Scotch on the Rocks - forget the beer.

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