A while ago my Uncle recommended the 1940 novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers to me and gave me his copy. It sat on my bookshelf for months during the school year, but this Summer I decided to finally read it.The narrative focuses on a deaf-mute man named John Singer who becomes an unlikely confidante to four lonely characters in a small, southern American town in the 1930s: A cafe owner, an ambitious young woman, a misunderstood alcoholic and an exasperated black doctor who desperately wants civil rights.
Although this novel was first published over seventy years ago, the way that McCullers writes about eternally relevant issues such as mental health, grief, the struggles of adolescence, politics, poverty and equality feels very current.
When Cafe owner Biff’s wife dies he is relieved that the arguing that once filled his home stops. However, he misses companionship and tries to build stronger relationships with his niece Baby and teenage customer Mick Kelly. The intergenerational friendships that Biff’s character forms were groundbreaking at the time of original publication and prove that building intergenerational friendships are always important for both the young and the old as shown in recent films such as Eastwood’s 2008 action drama Gran Torino and 2014 Hollywood comedy St Vincent.
Secondly, a young girl named Mick who dreams of being a composer is also drawn to Singer, who happens to live in her family’s busy boarding house. She finds solace in telling him her hopes for the future, where her working-class background and sex no longer holds her back. Her drive to succeed despite adversity is comparable to a better known fictional, feminist heroine Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, yet Anne is known for her vocal, curious, academic mindset. In contrast Mick feels embarrassed to voice her aspirations with her very practical family, reminding us as readers how it is always necessary to help creatives nurture their talent on their path to building a career, not just academically minded people.
Thirdly, Jake Blount is probably the least likable character due to his in intense, cryptic ramblings. Yet his desire to explain how the government is negatively impacting the average person’s life through chain letters is similar to how people share and express their political views on social media today. A vital lesson can be learned from this about using your voice to raise awareness, educate others and help make a positive change in somebody’s understanding of society or politics, which should subsequently have an even greater impact on the world.
Furthermore, Doctor Copeland wanted his views to make an impression on a national scale by marching to Washington in 1939 in the hopes of achieving Civil Rights after facing racist police brutality, that many unfortunately still experience today. To a World War One reader his ambitious plans to gain equality might have seemed admirable, but out of reach. Yet less than thirty years later Martin Luther King and his allies marched to Washington and made a noticeable impact, which resulted in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. McCullers championed their worthy cause long before it became international headline news. Representation of diverse stories and injustices are just as essential today, which is why it is great that the award-winning fictional, but realistic account of recent American police brutality The Hate U Give has been internationally acknowledged, However, even now more diverse stories need to be written to raise awareness of various inequalities in society and support minorities by representing them because it has the power to create equality, change perceptions and impact many lives.
Finally, although Singer is at the heart of the narrative as a close friend to all secondary characters, his feelings are often left unrecognized because he is a deaf-mute who communicates through sign language and a notepad. Not only is he a great listener and companion but a notable reminder in 2018, that it is vital to be there for those who are there for us. Even patient listeners need someone to listen to them because nobody should suffer in silence, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, sex, sexuality or disability.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter can be purchased here.
Photo via the article author, Francesca Hughes