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The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940)

by Carson McCullers

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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9,070205582 (3.96)1 / 626
In a small Georgia mill town during the depression, four misfits form a group that revolves around a deaf-mute whose sole companion has been sent to an insane asylum.
1940s (8)
WF (12)
Cooper (20)
Romans (35)

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English (186)  Spanish (4)  Catalan (3)  Swedish (2)  French (2)  German (1)  Norwegian (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (200)
Showing 1-5 of 186 (next | show all)
The detail in this old cover art doesn't seem to match the story details exactly but it seems to originate from a time when the artist was expected (and actually did) read the book before illustrating it. ( )
  JoeHamilton | Jul 21, 2020 |
Carson McCullers' The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter takes place in small-town Georgia, but it could take place in a small town anywhere. Our main character is John Singer, a Deaf man who works as a silversmith (he's continually referred to as "deaf-mute", or "mute", because this book was written in 1940). At the very beginning, he's living with a fellow Deaf man, Antonopolous, as his roommate, and they speak to each other in sign language. While Singer is otherwise typical apart from his deafness, Anton clearly has more profound issues...he seems to have some sort of intellectual disability as well as health problems. After a medical episode, his brother (the local grocer) takes him to an institution to be cared for, leaving Singer in need of a new place to go.

He ends up in the boarding house run by the Kelly family, and it's here that he attracts one of what turns out to be a small but devoted group of...well, followers is the best way to describe it. Mick Kelly, the musically-inclined daughter of the not-well-off family, comes often to Singer's room to talk to him (he can read lips and will occasionally respond in writing) and listen to the radio. At the local cafe, Singer attracts the lonely owner, Biff, who has a bad marriage even before he's widowed, and Jake, a traveling labor organizer trying to inspire the locals to band together. And then he also manages to meet and attract the attention of Dr. Benedict Copeland, the only black doctor in town, whose children (including the maid for the Kelly family) have refused to follow in his footsteps. While he moves through all of these people's lives at the center of their obsession, though, he maintains his own obsession with his friend and former roommate, regularly visiting him and bringing him expensive gifts.

I'll be honest...when I first started reading this, I was concerned that it was going to be a "sad lonely people being sad and lonely" story. Unless they're particularly well-written, those types of stories don't tend to appeal to me. But what I actually found here was a beautifully realized tale of the desperate human need to connect and feel like someone understands you. Each of the people drawn to John is estranged from most social connections: Mick, because her sensitivity and love for music makes her an oddball among her family and most of her peers, Biff, because he and his wife, who he was estranged from, never had the family he craved, Jake, because he's an actual outsider to the community whose efforts to organize them only alienate them instead, and Dr. Copeland because his education and pride separate him from his children as well as his community. In John, who can only listen and doesn't talk and is kind-hearted, they find the acceptance they covet. For John, though, the only person in his life who can understand him and he can communicate with in sign is Antonopolous, and it therefore it is this bond that John prizes above all others.

It's such an insightful look into the human condition that it's hard to believe Carson McCullers was only 23 when she wrote it. We're a social species, humans. We want to be members of the group. Feeling outside of it, especially when we're teenagers like Mick, is difficult to bear. For the most part, the characters McCullers creates feel real and sympathetic...John himself is really the least plausible character, to so patiently bear the demands on his time and emotional energy that his acolytes demand from him. I found myself wondering why he didn't literally shut the door on them once in a while to get some time to recharge. This novel would be best for fans of character-driven rather than plot-driven stories, because quite little actually "happens" besides the emotional journeys of the people involved. But if you're down for a slower, quieter book, this is really very lovely. ( )
  GabbyHM | Jun 24, 2020 |
What do you do when your only friend dies? What do you do when the only thing you look forward to is no more? This is what happened to Singer. He looks forward to visiting his friend, Antonapoulos, during vacation. But Antonapoulos died of illness. Singer did not know until he went to visit him at the institution. Though others have become attached to him, Singer did not understand their attachment, and he couldn't communicate with them. In the end, he chose to kill himself since there is nothing to look forward to anymore (sorry for the spoiler!). How dire life can be if there is no more hope! ( )
  siok | Jun 14, 2020 |
Because in some men it is in them to give up everything personal at some time, before it ferments and poisons--throw it to some human being or some human idea. They have to.

Definitely a book to be savoured at a leisurely pace, time and time again. A brilliant study of the pitfalls of interpersonal relationships, of words thrown into the void - hopeful, excited paper boats left to float downstream with the heavy, eternal uncertainty of whether they will ever reach anyone at all.
The theme of failed communication and misunderstanding that drives people who have more in common than they can imagine to loneliness and despair is developed admirably. People's lives start converging on Singer, who becomes a symbol of different things to different people and is assigned as many meanings as there are things that people dream of and lack. The discrepancy between his own flawed humanity and the lofty ideals that he comes to represent is the driving force of the novel.
The transition between points of view is subtle and smooth, and each chapter is finely tailored to the character on which it is focused. Each story is moving and engrossing, and they are intricately connected as they can only be in a small town in the Deep South.
A fine, fine specimen of the Great American Novel, whether or not it is officially referred to as such. ( )
1 vote ViktorijaB93 | Apr 10, 2020 |
To be fair, i took much longer than i should have to read a book like this. Picked it up and put it down a lot and struggled to reinvest myself each time. This book is 75% headspace. A handful of big things actually happening are scattered throughout. The writing is at times breathtaking, but because i struggled to care about most of the many characters, i found myself counting down page numbers a lot to the end, to just be done. ( )
  aezull | Mar 17, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 186 (next | show all)
No matter what the age of its author, "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" would be a remarkable book. When one reads that Carson McCullers is a girl of 22 it becomes more than that. Maturity does not cover the quality of her work. It is something beyond that, somthing more akin to the vocation of pain to which a great poet is born. Reading her, one feels this girl is wrapped in knowledge which has roots beyond the span of her life and her experience. How else can she so surely plumb the hearts of characters as strange and, under the force of her creative shaping, as real as she presents—two deaf mutes, a ranting, rebellious drunkard, a Negro torn from his faith and lost in his frustrated dream of equality, a restaurant owner bewildered by his emotions, a girl of 13 caught between the world of people and the world of shadows.

Carson McCullers is a full-fledged novelist whatever her age. She writes with a sweep and certainty that are overwhelming. "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" is a first novel. One anticipates the second with something like fear. So high is the standard she has set. It doesn't seem possible that she can reach it again.

» Add other authors (64 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Carson McCullersprimary authorall editionscalculated
Boddy, KasiaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bruggen, W.F.H. tenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gelder, Molly vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Reeves McCullers and to Marguerite and Lamar Smith
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In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Haiku summary
I'm Singer, you're blue.
Come up to my room and talk,
I'll just smile at you.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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