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The Heart is A Lonely Hunter by Carson…
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The Heart is A Lonely Hunter (1940)

by Carson McCullers (Author)

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Showing 1-5 of 117 (next | show all)
The opposite of love is not hate, not war. The opposite of love is loneliness, and so long as the heart seeks love, companionship and understanding it will be a lonely hunter. This novel is an ode to the lonely, the isolated, the voice-in-the-wilderness. In 1940 Carson McCullers was a 23-year-old young woman from the American South who clearly sympathized with this profile. She also became renowned through this work for successfully writing from the perspectives of a black doctor, a drunk political agitator, a deaf-mute, etc. - characters who would have remained outside the understanding and empathy of many a more mature author. Her best character is still the young girl Mick. It is easy to read autobiographical elements into Mick's portrayal, true or false. When Mick soaked up music through subterfuge I was imagining a young McCullers sneaking around her community as a child, listening under windows to adult conversations to store them away as writing inspiration.

Loneliness is the pervading theme, a common pain that ironically isolates. The novel centers around the other characters finding kinship with deaf-mute Singer, probably because his isolation is made obvious through his disability, yet they do not succeed at finding similar connections with one another. In my favourite scene they are all visiting Singer at the same time and feel awkward in each other's presence. "Each person addressed his words mainly to the mute. Their thoughts seemed to converge in him as the spokes of a wheel lead to the center hub." The spectrum of characters permits the exploration of a variety of responses when they are confronted with despair. Biff is often lumped with the other three as someone who learns from his experience with Singer, but I viewed him as a Singer alternate; the one to whom the others should have turned instead for learning how to communicate outside the range of their isolated views. They surely would have found in him a more informed and meaningful reflector.

I'm going to shelve it with "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" for the mood it creates: an acknowledgement that although life can be hard, bewildering and often unfair, it is worth the struggle. ( )
1 vote Cecrow | Sep 2, 2014 |
There is nothing uplifting in this novel; it is not as lyrically unified as Reflections in a Golden Eye but it documents the transformation of each character (something lacking in Golden Eye) showing how they are changed by alienation and isolation. It has some passages of writing that are extremely good (Golden Eye is much shorter and the writing is more uniformly outstanding and cohesively lyrical, something easier to do in a short format).

While it was not written to do so or be such, it also serves as a reminder of how much diversity of thought has been lost, at least in mainstream literature.

For me, it started slow but once it got going was hard to put down. I think, in part, this reflects a difference in how novels were structured in the time before TV.

I highly recommend it.
( )
  DinoReader | Aug 21, 2014 |
“People felt themselves watching him even before they knew that there was anything different about him. His eyes made a person think that he heard things that no one else had ever heard, that he knew things no one had ever guessed before. He did not seem quite human.”

“She wished there was some place where she could go to hum it out loud. Some kind of music was too private to sing in a house crammed full of people. It was funny, too, how lonesome a person could be in a crowded house.”
I first discovered this book around 1990, when I was 19 or 20 and it felt like a true revelation. I was relatively well-read at that age, or so I thought, but I don't think I'd ever read anything about the Deep South or by a Southern writer, and certainly nothing by a such a young female writer (McCullers was 23 at the time of publication), and though when I was rereading it this time I realized I remembered little to nothing of the story, what I do recall is the awe and reverence I felt for what I felt to be a brilliant masterpiece on the one hand, and on the other hand, feeling like I'd finally discovered an author who knew how it felt to be different inside from the others. For those reasons, it had stayed with me, for over 25 years as a shining memory, and I was often to name it as one of my all-time favourites.

For these reasons, I can't describe the disappointment I felt when, listening to the audiobook this time, perfectly well narrated by Cherry Jones, I hasten to add, I found it slow going and rather dull, even rather didactic in parts, failing to find all the beauty I'd seen in this novel the first time around. But first, I'll describe the book a little bit for those who aren't familiar with the story. It takes place in a "large" town in the Deep South (pop. 30,000), and the opening pages focus on the intense relationship between two deaf-mute friends who live together, John Singer and Spiros Antonopoulous. Spiros starts to behave more and more erratically, getting in trouble with the law more and more frequently and is eventually committed to an insane asylum, forcing John Singer to move from their home to a rooming house. From there the novel describes the events of four of John Singer's acquaintances, for the man becomes a magnet to some of the locals, who see in him whatever they wish to see, and consider him their best friend, jealously guarding their relationship with him from anyone else. There are Mick Kelly, a fourteen year-old tomboy and the daughter of the impoverished owners of the rooming house, who has a passion for music, discovers Mozart and Beethoven almost by accident and dreams of composing music and having a piano of her own one day. There is Jake Blount, a hard drinker, drifter and labour agitator regarded by most as a communist. Biff Brannon is the owner of the New York Café where most of the characters in the story go to have drinks and meals, and he seems to have a soft-spot for people who find nothing but trouble, such as Jake, to whom he loans a lot of money knowing perfectly well he'll never see it again. Finally there is Dr. Benedict Mady Copeland, a black physician who despises all whites, and who worked hard to have a proper education, and raised his children to have high values and ideals, only to be bitterly disappointed in their obstinacy to remain "like their own people" in their mannerism, speech and deeds.

As I write this, and as I was looking for quotes to include in this review, I was wondering why I wasn't more moved by this novel this time, because it has so very much going for it, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it as a great piece of literature. But I guess I've read a lot since I was 19 and recently have read quite a lot about communist agitators, and those parts of the novel, when Jake Blount speaks up tend to be rather bold, and perhaps more pronounced in the audio format. Steinbeck serves up quite a bit of that, then Native Son which I read recently was basically a Communist Manifesto, so that the social-political aspects of the novel took away from my enjoyment of the purely poetic aspects. Then again, it could have purely been a timing issue. Maybe I'm just happiest reading YA these days. Or maybe I'd have been better off finding my paperback copy and reading it at my own pace, savouring the sentences as I can do with those two quotes up above. Who's to know. Maybe a reread in another 20 years will prove more satisfying? Only one way to find out... ( )
  Smiler69 | Aug 16, 2014 |
A classic. The struggles of the downtrodden as represented by a deaf-mute and his relationships with the forgotten of society. ( )
  JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
Original post at Book Rhapsody.

***

Intro

I gravitate toward some book titles. Such titles are often the ones that could pass off as complete sentences. Type the title of this book on your word processor and I doubt that it would alert a grammatical error.

Book titles that elicit some profound feeling also attract me. Well, this is a subjective experience. I do not know what you feel about Flannery O’Connor’s Everything That Rises Must Converge and Joyce Carol Oates’s Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart. No, the latter does not sound like a real complete sentence, but there are strong feelings evoked in me.

Anyway, since I fell in love with the title of Carson McCuller’s book, does this mean that it speaks of who I am? Or does it merely describe the events in the novel?

The Rhapsody

This book is about five people who are dealing with their loneliness. Their circumstances vary but still, they are lonely. Some live their lives literally alone, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they are lonely. There are even people who are surrounded by their family and friends, and are yet engulfed by loneliness.

The lead character is John Singer, a deaf-mute yet indispensable worker. Yes, it's ironic that his last name is Singer when he could not even hear or speak. Which is not so ironic at all because his heart sings to four lonely people.

But what makes these people lonely? The inability to speak, unshared ambitions and intelligence, death, alienation within a social class, and radicalism are some of the things that could make people lonely. And how can one drive away loneliness?

By seeking other lonely people? Not necessarily, but yes, that could work too. In the novel, the four people that are drawn to Singer and seek specifically him to vent out the emotions that are bursting inside their chests. They communicate their thoughts to our deaf-mute, who only have these deadpan expressions that the four misconstrue for understanding.

And do these four people know that Singer has his own share of loneliness? I don't think so. I get the feeling that they just go on and on without even considering that Singer might be tired of their whining. Can we conclude then that loneliness breeds selfishness? Do they come hand in hand?

What I think is this. Loneliness visits a person who rarely communicates his thoughts and feelings to others. And lonely people can only communicate so well with the same lonely people. They have the feeling that they are comrades, that they are the only people who could truly understand them.

So I take back what I said. The four people who find comfort in Singer must have known all along, but they are too absorbed in their own issues. As long as they could talk, as long as there is someone who would indulge them, they can go through another day.

And what happens if they lose their dear Singer?

Final Notes

Aside from loneliness, I think this novel speaks strongly about delusion and disillusionment. I remember one scene where one of the characters, Mick Kelly, makes an improvised violin. Well, Mick loves music so much. She tries to learn the piano despite her lack of resources, and she can only listen to the music that she loves through one of her neighbor's radio.

Which sucks because poverty is getting in the way of her love for music. And isn't that scenario common to most of us? In this country, that is no longer surprising. People just shrug it off. One really has to work his way out of poverty before he can pursue what he loves. Which can make people watch their years go wasted. Which can make people desperate. Which can make people lonely.

I read somewhere that McCullers is a frustrated pianist, similar to Mick Kelly. She was supposed to study at Juilliard, the top school for music majors. But somehow, she was not able to pay for her tuition.

It's almost always like that. But thanks to that, she was able to produce this profoundly written novel. ( )
  angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 117 (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.
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
McCullers, CarsonAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bruggen, W.F.H. tenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Elst, Ad van derCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0618526412, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:06 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

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.… (more)

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