HomeGroupsTalkExploreZeitgeist
Search Site
This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Loading...

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940)

by Carson McCullers

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
9,888222594 (3.96)1 / 643
When she was only twenty-three, Carson McCullers's first novel created a literary sensation. She was very special, one of America's superlative writers who conjures up a vision of existence as terrible as it is real, who takes us on shattering voyages into the depths of the spiritual isolation that underlies the human condition. This novel is the work of a supreme artist, Carson McCullers's enduring masterpiece. The heroine is the strange young girl, Mick Kelly. The setting is a small Southern town, the cosmos universal and eternal. The characters are the damned, the voiceless, the rejected. Some fight their loneliness with violence and depravity, Some with sex or drink, and some -- like Mick -- with a quiet, intensely personal search for beauty. "From the Paperback edition."… (more)
1940s (5)
Cooper (20)
Romans (35)
Teens (13)
(3)
Loading...

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

» See also 643 mentions

English (203)  Spanish (5)  Catalan (4)  Swedish (2)  French (2)  Dutch (2)  German (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (220)
Showing 1-5 of 203 (next | show all)
Read it. READ IT! Do it now! ( )
  MaryJeanPhillips | Jun 22, 2022 |
The young Carson McCullers could write, and draw characters, but an idea that would be spirited and worthwhile as a literary short story or novella becomes excruciating when drawn out to novel length. The well-named The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (the title comes from a turn-of-the-century Scottish poem) is a long, plotless display of earnest literary noodling; a collection of benign, banal and bracing interactions between a handful of characters in a town in the American South in the 1930s.

The book swirls the interactions of four characters (only one of whom, the young girl Mick Kelly, is memorable) around a fifth: a pleasant, placid deaf-mute named John Singer. Each of the four are strangely drawn to this man for reasons they don't know, only that he has some quality; he is "thoughtful and composed", with "gentle eyes" (pg. 87). He understands them intuitively, they think, but part of the author's aim here seems to be that they are projecting; they each describe "the mute as he [or she] wished him to be" (pg. 197) and fail to realise that this man is reluctant to communicate in kind. He doesn't unburden himself on them as they do on him, and while they are each wrapped up in their own dramas – the novel's title leading us to believe they are the directionless and lonely hunters – it eventually becomes apparent that John Singer is the loneliest and the most burdened. "She likes music," Singer writes of Mick Kelly in a letter to the one (unreciprocated) friendship he tries to cultivate. "I wish I knew what it is she hears. She knows I am deaf but she thinks I know about music." (pg. 190)

Now, McCullers' book is one of those where this sort of literary architecture only becomes clear after you have finished it, and perhaps studied it. It is a noble theme, and McCullers is sometimes a bit too aware of the nobility, overegging the portentousness of her prose (particularly the internal monologues of the characters) and the earnest sentimentality of the interactions. The totemic role of John Singer is an unsteady device; some have compared him to Christ, the gentle man who redeemed others by taking on their burden, but the device isn't seamless enough to overcome the reader's doubts about it. In uncharitable moments, I wondered whether Singer could be considered a rare white incarnation of the 'magic Negro' trope. A lot of goodwill is lost throughout the novel by the fact it doesn't seem to be going anywhere; even more is lost when the book descends into a tedious preachiness about race and socialism.

Some reviewers have compared the book to Steinbeck (perhaps in part because of the overt socialism), but this comparison doesn't sit well with me. Their writing styles are similar (though McCullers has none of the humour that Steinbeck deployed in, for example, Cannery Row), but in truth Steinbeck never used his characters as pawns in the way McCullers does (at least not as clumsily: the characters in East of Eden could be considered pieces placed on a chessboard). A more suitable comparison might be Faulkner, because of the Southern meandering, but I've not read enough of Faulkner to be able to state this with any conviction.

Perhaps the best way to conceptualise my disappointment in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is to place it in a trifecta with Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Three female writers drawing characters from 1930s America and delivering a sense of humanity with warmth and homespun prose. But the Lee-Smith-McCullers triangle is isosceles rather than equilateral, and McCullers' novel is by far the least of the three. The other two are just a class above in delivering character, theme and, most importantly, depth. Too much of McCullers' book feels unearned – Singer's enigmatic qualities, his fondness for Antonapoulos, the other four characters' fondness for him – whereas the other two books can resist any sort of critical harrying. The comparison shows that, competent as it is, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter's play for literary greatness fell rather short. ( )
  MikeFutcher | Mar 13, 2022 |
What a fantastic book! I could write whole essays about this book and its presentation of the failure of American capitalism, the failure of interpersonal relationships, the tendency towards self-delusion, the death of the dream, the effects of trauma and intergenerational trauma, etc etc. It is terrifying that McCullers was only 23 when this book was published and yet the quality of the prose are way beyond anything I could have done at 23 (indeed, could do now I expect). Often described as 'southern gothic', for me this book is a literary version of 'socialist realism' - every word in its right place, revealing the cold realities of a brutal system that grinds to dust almost every man and woman. What a terrible time to be alive - American poverty worse than serfdom, fascism winning power in Europe, and Stalin's brutal purges systematically liquidating those who had already brought down one tyrant. ( )
  elahrairah | Mar 6, 2022 |
Sad and joyous. The innermost heart. ( )
  MarianBengal | Feb 24, 2022 |
I have to admit that I was initially a bit underwhelmed by this highly acclaimed novel. That has to do with personal circumstances: 2 of our 4 children are deaf, so I know that world a bit. McCullers' image of John Singer, the central character she systematically describes as "deaf-mute," doesn't quite match the image of truly deaf people, at least not today's (it would lead me too far to explain why). Hence initially I regularly was annoyed by that incorrect image.
But I soon realized that I had to distance myself from that: clearly McCullers was not interested in giving an accurate picture of the deaf community. In this novel, John Singer functions as a compositional hub to explore four other characters: the good-hearted bartender Biff Brannon, the ideologically fanatical Jack Bounty, the black doctor Benedict Copeland, and the boyish girl Mick Kelly. To their own surprise, they each see in the (obviously) taciturn Singer a point of contact to pour out their hearts, someone who understands everything. In this way, McCullers knows how to deepen the tragic side of each of these figures, ingeniously touching on a lot of themes: the race issue, the gender issue (quite remarkable for a 1940 novel!), the classic coming-of- age and midlife themes, the role of ideology in tackling injustice, and so on. That is impressive for a debut by a 23-year-old writer.
But of course, it is above all the central theme that sticks: the fundamental loneliness of every individual. In that regard, the title of this novel leaves nothing to the imagination: each of the 5 main characters almost continuously bumps into the tragedy of the human condition, not being understood, being powerless against the facts of life, not really being able to communicate, etc. And in that respect, I understand McCullers' choice of the deaf John Singer as the pivotal character a little bit better. Towards the end of the story, it even turns out that behind this character lies an even greater human tragedy than with the others.
This is a slow, thoughtfully written novel, which may no longer match the pace and dynamism typical of today's literature. For example, the story only really picks up a little past halfway. But the ending that McCullers is working towards is absolutely confrontational and haunting, I don't want to compromise on that. Only, the characters she presents – and I'm not just talking about the slightly too angelic John Singer – are just a little too much of a caricature. The fanatic Jack Bounty, for example, is drawn as the restless communist ideologue whose activism inevitably ends in frustration drowned in a large amount of alcohol. All in all, I found the layered Biff Brannon and the endearing Mick Kelly most appealing. And then, of course, I should certainly mention that the pages in which Dr. Copeland describes the condition of the black community are among the most impressive of this novel. ( )
  bookomaniac | Sep 24, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 203 (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 (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
McCullers, Carsonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boddy, KasiaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bruggen, W.F.H. tenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cartier-Bresson, HenriPhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cherry, JonesNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gelder, Molly vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
HarperAudioPublishersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Overholtzer, RobertDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
People/Characters
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
Epigraph
Dedication
To Reeves McCullers and to Marguerite and Lamar Smith
First words
In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together.
Quotations
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Blurbers
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS
Canonical LCC

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English

None

When she was only twenty-three, Carson McCullers's first novel created a literary sensation. She was very special, one of America's superlative writers who conjures up a vision of existence as terrible as it is real, who takes us on shattering voyages into the depths of the spiritual isolation that underlies the human condition. This novel is the work of a supreme artist, Carson McCullers's enduring masterpiece. The heroine is the strange young girl, Mick Kelly. The setting is a small Southern town, the cosmos universal and eternal. The characters are the damned, the voiceless, the rejected. Some fight their loneliness with violence and depravity, Some with sex or drink, and some -- like Mick -- with a quiet, intensely personal search for beauty. "From the Paperback edition."

No library descriptions found.

Book description
Haiku summary
I'm Singer, you're blue.
Come up to my room and talk,
I'll just smile at you.

Legacy Library: Carson McCullers

Carson McCullers has a Legacy Library. Legacy libraries are the personal libraries of famous readers, entered by LibraryThing members from the Legacy Libraries group.

See Carson McCullers's legacy profile.

See Carson McCullers's author page.

Popular covers

Quick Links

Rating

Average: (3.96)
0.5 2
1 30
1.5 6
2 117
2.5 23
3 354
3.5 115
4 671
4.5 117
5 649

Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

» Publisher information page

Recorded Books

An edition of this book was published by Recorded Books.

» Publisher information page

 

About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 171,586,565 books! | Top bar: Always visible