Author: Carson McCullers
Paperback: 359 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date: 1940
Cost: Rs. 79.31 (Kindle edition)
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.
Each of the five main characters in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter strives to break out of his or her isolated existence. The reasons each character is isolated are very different: the deaf-mute John Singer cannot communicate with most of the world because he cannot speak; Mick Kelly cannot communicate with anyone in her family because they do not share her intelligence and ambition; Biff Brannon is left alone when his wife dies; Dr. Copeland is alienated from his family. The isolation from which each character suffers is a combination of personal and environmental factors. However, all of the characters feel profoundly alone in some sense or another, and all of them desperately need to communicate their feelings with somebody who understands them.
This novel also explores the idea that all people feel a need to create some sort of guiding principle or god. However, whatever each person conceives of in this godlike role is merely his or her own fantasy; it has no basis in reality, just as those who believe in God have no proof that ‘He’ actually exists.
Heroism surfaces most overtly in the novel in the characters of John Singer and of Mick, the least self-absorbed of the major characters and seemingly the only ones capable of feeling genuine, unselfish love for another person. The love Singer feels for Antonapoulos demonstrates the altruism of Singer's nature: he is capable of loving someone completely without receiving any true reciprocation.
The characters' hopes and ambitions are hampered by life's circumstances and each character's individual flaws.
- A film adaptation was made in 1968, starring Alan Arkin, Sondra Locke and Cicely Tyson.
- A stage adaptation of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter premiered on March 30, 2005, at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia. The show ran until April 24 of that year, then toured. The play was an Alliance Theatre presentation done in association with The Acting Company out of New York. The play, adapted by Rebecca Gilman, was directed by Doug Hughes.
About 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.