Carson McCullers

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Rose Feld (review date 16 June 1940)

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SOURCE: "A Remarkable First Novel of Lonely Lives," in The New York Times Book Review, June 16, 1940, p. 6.

[In the following review, Feld provides brief character descriptions and a plot synopsis of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.]

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, something 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.

From the opening page, brilliant in its establishment of mood, character and suspense, the book takes hold of the reader. "In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together," Miss McCullers begins, and at once this unique novel swings into action. One of these mutes was the fat, greasy, ungainly Greek, Spiros Antonapoulos, who worked in his cousin's fruit store and made candy for him; the other was John Singer, who was employed as an engraver in a jewelry store. They lived together in two rooms, bound to each other by the physical handicap which made them alien in a world of normal people.

With a touch reminiscent of Faulkner but peculiarly her own, Miss McCullers describes their strange relationship, the fat Greek, greedy for food, petulant, mentally irresponsible, dominating the slender, gentle Singer. When the public habits of Antonapoulos become such that he is a menace to public decency, his cousin has him put away in an institution for the insane and John Singer is left alone, lost and stranded among people who talk.

Exiled from the home he and the Greek had made for each other, Singer takes a room in the Kellys' boarding house and arranges to have all his meals in Biff Brannon's New York Café. The few things he needs to get over to people he writes in careful script on cards he carries with him. Accustomed to living in a world of silence, he neither expects nor wants companionship of those who live in a world of sound. Deepest in his heart is the yearning for the departed Antonapoulos.

With stinging subtlety, Miss McCullers builds up the growing importance of Singer in the lives of the people who come to know him. So excellent is her portrayal, so fine her balance of the imagined against the real, that there are times when the reader himself is bemused by the silence and the smile of the mute. In developing Singer as the fountainhead of understanding and wisdom, she plunges into the heart of human desolation, into the pain of the ineffectuality of words as a bridge between people. Sitting silently in Biff Brannon's restaurant, lost in his dreams of the two rooms where Antonapoulos had cooked, smiling vaguely as he plans his vacation visit to the incarcerated Greek, Singer becomes a symbol of godliness. Saying nothing, it is assumed he knows everything. His smile is gentle,...

(This entire section contains 1037 words.)

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built of his own loneliness and because he cannot defend himself against the spate of words forced upon him, he listens with eyes fixed sympathetically upon moving lips.

To Biff Brannon, lost in a world of emotional fears, Jake Blount is a crazy drunkard who uses his education to rant against the inequality between the rich and the poor. To Singer, Blount is a strange, unkempt creature who talks continuously of things Singer doesn't fully understand. But Singer listens or seems to and his smile is gentle. For Biff himself, Singer has the fascination of the unknowable.

To his daughter, Portia, cook at the poverty-stricken Kelly boarding house, Dr. Benedict Mady Copeland is a man who has strayed from the fold of the true church and will suffer for it in spite of his aid to the sick. To Singer he is the colored physician who talks passionately about the subjugation of his race. To her family Mick Kelly is a good kid who takes care of her younger brothers and goes off by herself when she is free of them. To Singer she is the little girl who comes to his room to talk about her dreams of music, who pours herself out to the man who sits and smiles and nods as he reads her lips. To all of them, through no fault or virtue of his own, except that of simplicity and kindliness, Singer becomes the one creature in their lives who can give them peace and understanding.

With powerful strokes Miss McCullers paints the details of the lives of these people and those they touch. She is squeamish neither of word nor incident and her canvas is alive with the realities of their existence, more often savage and violent than tender. Her imagination is rich and fearless; she has an astounding perception of humanity which goes with equal certainty into the daily life of a drunken social rebel like Jake Blount and into the dreams of the music-hungry, lonely Mick Kelly. The effect is strangely that of a Van Gogh painting peopled by Faulkner figures. That it is the degenerate Spiros Antonapoulos, greedy for sweets and vicious in an infantile way, who actually dominates the lives of the characters through his influence on John Singer, serves to heighten the terrific force of her story.

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.

Introduction

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Carson McCullers 1917–1967

American novelist, short story writer, dramatist, and poet.

The following entry presents an overview of McCullers's career. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volumes 1, 4, 10, 12, and 48.

Carson McCullers is considered one of the most prominent American writers of the 1940s and 1950s and was a major contributor to the Southern literary renaissance. Often compared to Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, and Flannery O'Connor, McCullers wrote tales about misfits, outcasts, and grotesque figures searching for love and acceptance in a complex and violent world. Robert S. Phillips asserted that McCullers's works "are perhaps the most typical and most rewarding exemplars of Southern Gothicism in this century." Beset by debilitating illness and personal tragedy in her own life, McCullers's greatest literary accomplishments include The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940), The Ballad of the Sad Café (1943), and The Member of the Wedding (1946), all completed in her twenties. Widely acclaimed for unusual sensitivity and dynamic characterizations, McCullers's compositions offer rare insight into the awkwardness and frustration associated with adolescence, unrealized love, and the failure of interpersonal communication. Her best fiction transcends the idiosyncracies and paradoxes of the provincial American South to address the complex metaphysical dilemma of the human condition.

Biographical Information

Born Lula Carson Smith in Columbus, Georgia, McCullers showed an early aptitude for music and literature and was encouraged by her parents to study the piano. In 1935 she traveled to New York City to study at the Juilliard School of Music, but she never enrolled due to ill health and waning interest. In 1937 she married Reeves McCullers, an aspiring novelist, and moved to North Carolina. There she began work on her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, which was published to wide critical acclaim. A celebrated literary success, McCullers divorced Reeves after a series of complicated romantic interludes and immersed herself in the New York artistic community. Reflections in a Golden Eye, her second novel, was published in 1941. McCullers returned to Columbus where she suffered her first stroke at the age of twenty-four. With the support of a Guggenheim fiction fellowship in 1942 and an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1943, McCullers produced her novella The Balladof the Sad Café, published in Harper's Bazaar, and a third novel, The Member of the Wedding. She remarried Reeves in 1945 and accompanied him to Europe where in 1947 she suffered a series of strokes that permanently impaired her vision and paralyzed her left side. In 1953 she left Reeves again after their relationship became increasingly hostile. Shortly thereafter, he committed suicide. The death of her mother two years later devastated McCullers, but she used both Reeves and her mother as the basis for characters in her play The Square Root of Wonderful (1958). McCullers produced her last novel, Clock Without Hands, in 1961, and a book of children's verse, Sweet as a Pickle and Clean as a Pig, in 1964. She died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1967 at the age of fifty. A posthumous publication of McCullers's uncollected writings, edited by her sister, Margarita Smith, appeared under the title The Mortgaged Heart: The Previously Uncollected Writings of Carson McCullers (1971).

Major Works

McCullers's highly acclaimed first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940), focuses on deaf-mute John Singer, who befriends four alienated characters who believe that only he can understand their plight. The novel also centers on the experiences of the adolescent Mick Kelly, an androgynous thirteen-year old girl who sacrifices her dream of becoming a concert pianist to take a job at Woolworth's department store. The distinct Gothic qualities, bizarre characters and violent episodes of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter are employed again in McCullers's second novel, Reflections in a Golden Eye, which was criticized for its unorthodox subject matter and unsympathetic portrayal of characters. The depiction of Captain Penderton, a sadomasochistic, latent homosexual who commits a murder at the end of the novel, typifies the characterizations running throughout much of McCullers's work. Unfulfilled spiritual and physical needs are a central part of The Ballad of the Sad Café, in which McCullers portrays a relationship between the tall, Amazon-like Amelia Evans, her vengeful husband Marvin Macy, and her hunchback cousin Lymon. The strange fairy-tale elements of the story lend the work an epic quality. As Mary A. Gervin noted, McCullers admitted that the story was written to "work out the conflicting emotions she underwent in 'the twisted trinity' between her German friend Annemarie, her husband Reeves, and herself." Through the perverse triangle relationship that evolves in the novel, McCullers illustrates how archetypal love tends toward evil and the negation of communal love. The bond that is developed between the dwarf Lymon and the giantess Amelia is shattered when Lymon's affections are transferred to Macy. The two men destroy Amelia's coffee house and abandon her, leaving her physically and spiritually broken. In The Member of the Wedding, McCullers returned to a coming-of-age story in which the protagonist, Frankie Addams, struggles with problems of awakening sexuality, racial prejudice, and death. Frankie desperately wishes to accompany her brother and his fiancée on their honeymoon, believing that such an act will alleviate her loneliness and enable her to discover what she terms "the we of me." The Square Root of Wonderful was considered one of McCullers's least successful works, but provides insight into her life and techniques. Many critics viewed the play as McCullers's attempt to reconcile feelings of loss, guilt, and hostility resulting from the death of her husband and mother.

Critical Reception

Critical assessment of McCullers's relatively small literary canon remains uneven and somewhat inconsistent. Among her four novels, one novella, several plays, and more numerous short stories, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, The Ballad of the Sad Café, and The Member of the Wedding stand as the high spots of her oeuvre. In these works protagonists struggle with challenges such as loneliness, adolescence, sexual discrimination, and failure to meet societal expectations. McCullers also incorporated themes of racial injustice, spiritual deprivation, and emotional exile into her stories. Because of these realistic themes critics have been divided in classifying McCullers as a realistic or romantic writer. Oliver Evans stated: "It is ironical that her gift for realism, especially in dialogue and characterization, has operated in her case less as a blessing than as a curse." Critical debate over McCullers's classification as a realist or allegorical writer continues to be a central issue for many reviewers. Many critics also feel that later works such as Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Square Root of Wonderful, and Clock Without Hands do not reach the standard of excellence established early in her career; the last was completed while she was gravely ill. Though her strongest works have received comparison with Flaubert and Faulkner, McCullers's preoccupation with the aberrant and sensational has prompted critics to speculate on the limitations of her ability and intellectual depth. Oliver Evans wrote: "I do not think I overstate the case when I say that Carson McCullers is probably the best allegorical writer on this side of the Atlantic since Hawthorne and Melville." In the hierarchy of great American writers, McCullers shares enduring distinction among the preeminent figures of the Southern literary tradition, including her contemporaries Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, and Katherine Anne Porter.

Joseph Frank (review date July-September 1946)

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SOURCE: "Fiction Chronicle," in The Sewanee Review, Vol. LIV, No. 3, July-September, 1946, pp. 534-39.

[In the following brief review, Frank discusses the plot and characters of The Member of the Wedding, noting McCullers' potential as an important developing writer.]

Politics is left completely behind when we enter the enchanted—or shall we say, rather, topsy-turvy world of F. Jasmine Addams, the twelve-year-old adolescent of Carson McCullers' The Member of the Wedding. Nominally, the book centers around the emotional turmoil and confusion of an adolescent girl in the twilight period when the anarchy of tom-boy childhood has ceased, but the somewhat more decorous life of girlhood has not yet begun. Frankie Addams, caught in this period, is not a "member" of anything; and so she decides that, at her brother's wedding, she will become a "member" of the bridal party and travel away with them. But the wedding itself takes up only a few brief pages at the close of the book. Most of it is occupied by Frankie, dreaming her fantastic daydreams, talking and playing cards with her six-year old cousin, John Henry West, and with the Negro maid, Berenice Sadie Brown. At the conclusion of the book, after Frankie has been forcibly detained from leaving with the bride and groom, she forgets all about this incident and, with a new girl friend, adores Michelangelo and reads Tennyson. The twilight period has passed and she is now a "member."

Most critics, considering the book merely as the study of an adolescent girl, have found it interesting and well-done but not particularly new—adolescents, it seems, have become a drug on the fiction market. In general, this judgment is correct if one limits oneself to the book's main theme; but the really important part of the book is a quality of sensibility which, as a matter of fact, the main theme is too weak to support. Miss McCullers is fascinated by the revolting and the perverse to an almost morbid extent; in searching for detail, she invariably picks out something like this (she is describing Frankie's impressions of a carnival): "The Wild Nigger came from a savage island. He squatted in his booth among the dusty bones and palm leaves and ate raw living rats…. The Wild Nigger knocked the rat's head over his squatted knee and ripped off the fur and crunched and gobbled and flashed his greedy Wild Nigger eyes." John Henry West, with "a little screwed white face" and "tiny gold-rimmed glasses," who covered the wall of the kitchen with drawings that make it look like a "crazy house," is a little monster; and Frankie herself, slinging butcher knives around when she gets mad, and calmly cutting the sole of her foot open to take out a nail, is not exactly one's idea of an average American girl, even an adolescent. This quality of sensibility in Miss McCullers, in the context of the present book, adds up to very little because it remains unfocused and purposeless. What it might add up to in the future, however, may possibly be seen in the character of the Negro maid, Berenice Sadie Brown, where the grotesque becomes almost sublime by being endowed with a human warmth absent in the other people, who seem to be sleep-walking rather than living. For all her absurdity, Berenice is a profoundly impressive character. If Miss McCullers can continue to create similar ones and, like Dostoyevsky, place them in a situation where their very grotesqueness takes on symbolic value, American literature may find itself with a really important writer on its hands.

Principal Works

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The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (novel) 1940
Reflections in a Golden Eye (novel) 1941
The Ballad of the Sad Café (novel) 1943
The Member of the Wedding (novel) 1946
The Ballad of the Sad Café: The Novels and Stories of Carson McCullers (novels and short stories) 1951
The Square Root of Wonderful (drama) 1958
Clock Without Hands (novel) 1961
Sweet as a Pickle, Clean as a Pig (children's poetry) 1964
The Mortgaged Heart: The Previously Uncollected Writings of Carson McCullers (short stories, poems, sketches, essays) 1971

Wolcott Gibbs (review date 14 January 1950)

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SOURCE: A review of The Member of the Wedding, in The New Yorker, Vol. XXV, No. 47, January 14, 1950, pp. 44, 46, 49.

[In the following review Gibbs praises the theatrical production of The Member of the Wedding, but faults the attempt to condense the entire novel into a three-act play.]

The Member of the Wedding, Carson McCullers' dramatization of her novel, is unquestionably the first serious new play of any consequence to reach Broadway this season. It has a good many touching and rather difficult things to say; it often has a queer, fantastic wit, not unlike Saroyan's; occasionally it reaches something very close to poetry; and it is illuminated by a magnificent performance by Ethel Waters and two remarkably spirited ones by Julie Harris and a seven-year-old boy named Brandon De Wilde. In spite of all this, however, I'm afraid that the piece at the Empire isn't entirely satisfactory from a theatrical point of view. The principal trouble, I think, is that Mrs. McCullers has tried to transfer her book too literally to the stage; to crowd, that is, the whole mysterious desperation of adolescence into three acts, along with a fairly exhaustive discussion of the complicated theme of race relations in the South. The result is a curiously uneven work—sometimes funny, sometimes moving, but also, unfortunately, sometimes just a trifle incoherent and shapeless.

The heroine of The Member of the Wedding is a rather plain twelve-year-old girl who is known to an insensitive world as Frankie Addams, though she prefers to think of herself as F. Jasmine Addams, and she lives with her widowed father and their old Negro cook, Berenice Sadie Brown, who has one bright-blue glass eye, in a small town in Georgia. Frankie has a great deal on her mind (at twelve, for instance, she is five feet five and three-quarter inches tall and at the rate she's going she is gloomily certain that she'll hit a good ten feet by the time she's twenty-one), but the real root of her unhappiness is her terrible sense of being alone, separate from everybody else in the world, both children and adults. Primarily, this feeling is a symptom of her age, but as it happens she really hasn't much of a social life, since the slightly older girls in the neighborhood have banned her from their club, and her only companions are Berenice and a cousin some six years her junior, who is moderately silly even as little boys go. At this point, when Frankie's need to attach herself to something or somebody is almost unbearable, her brother drops in with his fiancée. They seem to her the two most beautiful people who ever lived, and she decides to join them on their honeymoon, which she vaguely pictures as a triumphal tour around the world, going on forever. Berenice, who has had a wide experience with matrimony, tries to explain that membership in weddings is customarily limited to two, but Frankie's dream of being part of something at last, especially something that promises to be not only strange and lovely but also infinitely removed from Georgia, is too strong for cynical arguments like that, and she goes ahead with her plans, which include the purchase of a red evening dress, cut right down to the waist in the back. In the end, of course, she is left behind, and though the bridal pair do their best to spare her feelings, for a time she is desolate, even to the point of attempting suicide. Sad as it is, this disillusionment has the effect of putting an end to Frankie's childhood, and in the last scene we find her reasonably adjusted to her surroundings, being, in fact, about to go for a ride on a moving van with a young football player and his girl.

Mrs. McCullers has a peculiar gift for creating characters immune to the usual rules of human behavior, and it is possible to accept the fact that Frankie can be an almost total biological ignoramus while living in a circle where practically nothing else is ever discussed, and while herself employing most of the popular terminology. She is not exactly a girl who will bear examination in retrospect, but in her presence I was bewitched by her and saw no reason at all to suppose that wedding bells and sex would have any vulgar association in her mind. Miss Harris may be overplaying this part a trifle from time to time, once to the extent of introducing a cartwheel into it, but on the whole I admired her performance and concur in the general opinion that she is one of the most talented young actresses around today.

The two other major figures in the play are also very fascinating, if not quite so original in design. Berenice was absolutely happy with her first husband, but he died and since then she has been trying to console herself with the "bits and pieces" of him that she has found in other men. She serves chiefly as a contrast to Frankie's inexperience and as her only refuge in her distress. This is obviously a role with disastrous possibilities, but the writing, except in one or two places, is free from bathos, and Miss Waters' interpretation is a miraculously balanced combination of rowdy humor and sorrowful understanding. The cousin, played by young De Wilde, struck me as one of the few completely believable little boys ever put on the stage, and I felt a strong sense of personal loss when Mrs. McCullers, for rather arbitrary reasons, decided to kill him off in her last act.

The racial subplot, which, as I say, seems to me only to confuse and diminish the play, however much it may have been an organic part of the novel, has to do with a young mulatto, Berenice's foster brother, who knifes a white man while under the influence of marijuana and subsequently hangs himself in jail. His abrupt and violent end, coinciding with the cousin's death from meningitis, provides The Member of the Wedding with a lively, if lugubrious, conclusion, but somehow it also introduces an element of contrived melodrama out of keeping with the delicate mood that has been so successfully sustained throughout most of the evening.

The cast, brilliantly directed by Harold Clurman, also includes William Hansen, Harry Bolden, Henry Scott, and James Holden. I can't remember a more engaging group of supporting players, and Lester Polakov's set, presumably representing a typical Georgia kitchen, would astonish Jeeter Lester with its neat and airy look.

John Mason Brown (review date 28 January 1950)

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SOURCE: "Plot Me No Plots," in Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. XXXIII, No. 4, January 28, 1950, pp. 27-9.

[In the following review of the theatrical version of The Member of the Wedding, Brown discusses the differences between the play and the novel.]

On the fifth day of each November bonfires are lighted in London in honor of the discovery of a plot. And Beefeaters, with their lanterns raised, search the basement of the Houses of Parliament as if they still expected to find Guy Fawkes hiding there, with a slow burning match in his hand, ready to set off the powder kegs which would elevate King James I even higher above his subjects.

The story of Guy Fawkes is known to everyone. But between our vague knowledge of his share in this conspiracy and the detailed plan which he and his associates had evolved for carrying it out lies the reason for history's having identified the events with which he is connected, not as the Gunpowder Story, but as the Gunpowder Plot.

Even in the theatre the same distinction can be made. For, strictly speaking, the plotting of a play is not the story upon which that play is founded, or the story that it tells, but the manner in which a particular dramatist, due usually to his times no less than to his personality, has chosen to advance it. It is not those things that happen in a play, but the when, why, and how of their happening.

It is the dramatist's plan of action, his blueprint of events, his mechanical distribution of his fable into acts and scenes. It is the bony structure underlying whatever flesh and blood his characters may boast, the skeleton which makes his play organic and dictates its movements. It is the dramatists's scheme not only for putting his people to the test of deeds or crises but also for arranging, introducing, illustrating, emphasizing, developing, and concluding the basic idea or situation around which he has built his play.

The foregoing paragraphs were written by me several years ago. They appeared in a book called The Art of Playgoing. I fall back on them now because Carson McCullers's dramatization of her novel, The Member of the Wedding, is an interesting illustration of the differences between plot and story.

Mrs. McCullers's study of the loneliness of an overimaginative young Georgian girl is no ordinary play. It is felt, observed, and phrased with exceptional sensitivity. It deals with the torturing dreams, the hungry egotism, and the heartbreak of childhood in a manner as rare as it is welcome. Quite aside from the magical performances its production includes, it has a magic of its own. The script shines with an unmistakable luster. Plainly it is the work of an artist, of an author who does not stoop to the expected stencils and who sees people with her own eyes rather than through borrowed spectacles.

Common speech becomes uncommon in Mrs. McCullers's usage of it. Her marshaling of words is no less individual than her approach to her characters. She employs the language lovingly to give color and nuance to her unique perceptions. But, though she tells a story, and a very moving one at that, she does so with as little reliance upon plotting as if her aim had been to obey the command of the Citizen in "The Knight of the Burning Pestle" who cried, "Plot me no plots."

A lot happens in The Member of the Wedding, that is if you consider its separate incidents and what the average play-wright would make of them. Frankie, the young girl who is Mrs. McCullers's central character, dreams of going off with her brother and his bride on their honeymoon. When she learns that they do not want her she runs away from home and comes near to committing suicide with her father's pistol. The little boy who lives next door is stricken with meningitis and dies. And Berenice, the Negro cook at Frankie's dilapidated house, hears first that her no good foster brother has slashed the throat of a white man with a razor, and then that, after his capture, he has hanged himself in jail.

Though she touches upon these last two tragedies, Mrs. McCullers does not build them up. Instead, she throws them away, treating them with a wasteful casualness. Even when dwelling at length upon Frankie's delusive obsessions about the wedding and the honeymoon, she avoids developing them dramatically in the usual fashion. Character and mood are her substitutes for plot. And admirable and absorbing substitutes they prove to be when she is writing at her best.

Galsworthy's contention was that a human being is the best plot there is. "A bad plot," he said, "is simply a row of stakes with a character impaled on each—characters who would have liked to live but came to untimely grief." Certainly, Mrs. McCullers's characters are not impaled upon such a row of stakes. Three of them, the girl Frankie, the Negro cook, and the young boy, are as vividly drawn as any characters to have come out of the contemporary theatre.

If, in spite of its fascination and distinction, Mrs. McCullers's play ultimately fails to live up to its high promise, the reason is certainly not her choosing to dispense with plotting, as plotting is ordinarily understood. Healthily, the theatre has grown more and more away from the tawdry contrivances and the delight in artifice for artifice's sake upon which it doted at the century's turn. It has done this in the interest of freedom no less than of truth, done it because both audiences and playwrights have come to realize that the conflicts within individuals possess a greater dramatic value than the prefabricated crises which were once the theatre's mainstay.

The well-made play, with all of its table-thumpings, "plants," big scenes, carpentry, and curtain lines, is nowadays completely out of fashion. Pinero, Jones, and Sardou are very dead indeed. Chekhov's influence is far stronger than that of Ibsen, the master builder. Accordingly, Mrs. McCullers's plot-lessness demands no readjustment because it comes as no surprise. It finds her following a tradition most of us like and respect. It is an indication of her probity, a proof that she is writing as an artist.

Considering how fine are the fine things in The Member of the Wedding, the pity is that Mrs. McCullers's play lacks inward progression. It is more static than it needs or ought to be. Its virtue is its lack of contrivance, but its shortcoming is its lack of planning. Salty and sensitive as is the delineation of its major characters, they do not develop; they stand still. Some of the scenes in which they appear are written as if they were "sketches." This is particularly true in the last act, the three scenes of which are as unsubstantial as Mrs. McCullers's ten subsidiary characters. Among these even Frankie's widowed father, who could do much to explain the mental instability of his daughter, is a mere wrath. He is as unreal as the three characters who interest Mrs. McCullers are real.

A wise old woman once insisted that she liked bad children best of all. When asked why, her answer was, "They are always sent out of the room." There are quite a few moments when one comes uncomfortably near to wishing the same fate would overtake Frankie. She is a disconcerting young egoist, shrill and excitable, who feeds on dreams and is strayed for affection. Her boyishness is aggressive and almost pathological. Her language is as tough as her mind is naive. She is unpopular with children of her own age and unmanageable in her own household. Her only friends are her cousin, the droll little boy who lives next door, and the wise, earthy, much-married, and all-mothering Negro cook who takes care of her.

Towards the evening's end Frankie has apparently passed through her difficult phase. She has begun to care about clothes and to be cared for by her contemporaries. In the person of a young football player she has even found her "Greek god." She remains, however, an egotist. She is unaffected by her cousin's death, and untouched by moving to another neighborhood and having to take her leave of the cook. If the sun has begun to shine for Frankie, the darkness of being alone, forgotten, and, without hope is enveloping the cook.

What redeems Frankie from the audience's point of view is the heart-stabbing honesty with which her distress, her fancy, and her loneliness are captured both by Mrs. McCullers in her writing and by Julie Harris in her playing. Miss Harris pulls no punches. She does not spare herself or try to prettify Frankie. Her hair is cropped forlornly. The red satin evening dress she buys for her brother's daytime wedding is the sorriest and most saddening costume any actress has had the integrity to wear in years. Miss Harris's is a brilliant performance. It is as sensitive as Mrs. McCullers's insight into people who are strays from the pack. Brandon De Wilde, who plays the bespectacled youngster from next door, is beguilingly free from self-consciousness. He is a manly little individualist, as much at home behind the footlights as if he were actually hanging around someone's kitchen, hoping for a cooky and begging for attention.

As the cook, Ethel Waters demonstrates once again how exceptional are her gifts. No person in our theatre glows with such goodness. Miss Waters's smile is spirit-lifting and cloud-dispelling. Her laugh is one of the most agreeable sounds known to this planet. So is her voice. Her dignity is no less innate than her benevolence. Moreover, she is an actress whose emotional range is wide. If her heart seems to smile in moments of happiness, her face when downcast achieves true tragic grandeur.

Harold Clurman has never done a better job as a director than with The Member of the Wedding. He has staged it with beauty, humor, and perception. He has not only assembled an excellent cast but has shown himself to be alert to every shading of an unusual script. The result is an evening as uncommon in its quality as it is radiant in its merits.

Further Reading

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Bibliography

Carr, Virginia Spencer, and Millichap, Joseph R. "Carson McCullers." American Women Writers. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1983, 297-319.

Bibliographic essay identifying primary editions and manuscript sources, as well as secondary works including bibliography, biography, and criticism.

Criticism

Dusenbury, Winifred L. The Theme of Loneliness in Modern American Drama. Gainesville, Florida: University of Florida Press, 1960, 57-85.

Examines family relations and corresponding themes of loneliness and alienation in the stage version of McCullers' The Member of the Wedding.

Evans, Oliver. "The Case of the Silent Singer: A Revaluation of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter." The Georgia Review XIX, No. 2 (Summer 1965): 188-203.

Examines aspects of isolation, ideal communication, and the allegorical significance of John Singer, the deaf-mute character in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.

Evans, Oliver. "The Achievement of Carson McCullers." Carson McCullers, edited by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House Publishers, 1986: 21-31.

Discusses the themes, critical appraisals, and allegorical aspects of Carson McCullers' works.

Fuller, Janice. "The Conventions of Counterpoint and Fugue in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter." Mississippi Quarterly XLI, No. 1 (Winter 1987–1988): 55-67.

Examines the function of character and plot in the fugal structure of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.

Gervin, Mary A. "McCullers' Frames of Reference in The Ballad of the Sad Café." Pembroke Magazine, No. 20 (1988): 37-42.

Discusses the different elements of mythology, folklore, philosophy, and phenomenology in The Ballad of the Sad Café.

Ginsberg, Elaine. "The Female Initiation Theme in American Fiction." Studies in American Fiction 3. No. 1 (Spring 1975): 27-37.

Examines the theme of female initiation in American fiction, particularly as evidenced in McCullers' novels The Member of the Wedding and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.

Hardwick, Elizabeth. A review of The Member of the Wedding. Partisan Review XIII, No. 3 (Summer 1946): 384, 386-88, 390-93.

Brief review faulting The Member of the Wedding for its similarity to The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.

Johnson, James William. "The Adolescent Hero: A Trend in Modern Fiction." Twentieth Century Literature 5, No. 1 (April 1959): 3-11.

Study of adolescent protagonists in modern fiction, particularly in the works of Carson McCullers, J. D. Salinger, Thomas Wolfe, James Joyce, and Katherine Anne Porter.

Kelley, Patricia P. "Recommended: Carson McCullers." English Journal 71, No. 6 (October 1982): 67-68.

Identifies adolescent issues in McCullers' major novels and early short stories, suggesting their potential appeal to high school readers.

Madden, David. "The Paradox of the Need for Privacy and the Need for Understanding in Carson McCullers' The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter." Literature and Psychology XVII, No. 2-3 (1967): 128-40.

Analysis of character psychology and dilemma of spiritual isolation in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.

Paden, Frances Freeman. "Autistic Gestures in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter." Modern Fiction Studies 28, No. 3 (Autumn 1982): 453-63.

Examines autistic behaviors exhibited by characters of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, particularly hand gestures that signify frustration and alienation.

Walsh, Margaret. "Carson McCullers' Anti-Fairy Tale: The Ballad of the Sad Café." Pembroke Magazine, No. 20 (1988): 43-8.

Discusses the fairy tale elements of The Ballad of the Sad Café, commenting on both love's failure to redeem and conquer, and the transience of personal transformations.

Worsley, T. C. "Growing Up." The New Statesman and Nation LIII, No. 1353 (16 February 1957): 201-202.

Negative assessment of McCullers' stage adaptation of The Member of the Wedding.

Hubert Creekmore (review date 8 July 1951)

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SOURCE: "The Lonely Search for Love," in The New York Times Book Review, July 8, 1951, p. 5.

[In the following review, Creekmore faults McCullers' later works for not measuring up to the standards of her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.]

The appearance of an "omnibus" of Carson McCullers' work should be a signal for an estimate, much fuller than can be attempted here, of her achievement in fiction. The three novels of this highly praised young author were reviewed on publication; the novella of the title [The Ballad of the Sad Café] and the six short stories appear in book form for the first time. Together, they indicate a specialized talent for a sharp, controlled, revealing style of fiction which since its debut has, by narrowing the field of observation, never matched the quality of the first novel.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is more abundant in emotion and appeal, more complex and varied in character and development, more concerned with human reality, broader in all dimensions than any of the later work. After it, The Member of the Wedding, from which the successful play was made, seems a more delicate and extended treatment of a section of the first novel. The parallels are obvious: Mickey and Frankie are daughters of widowed watchmakers, their households and experiences are similar, and their emergence from childhood-adolescence much the same. If it seems a long footnote to The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, at the same time it shows the increase of a humorous tenderness in Mrs. McCullers' writing; but along with it, a tendency to digression, notable in the rhapsody of Frankie's walk about town.

Reflections in a Golden Eye, in spite of the cool clarity and ease of the prose, remains a freak, not only in its characters but in the fact that it fails to make human beings of the characters, and their actions fail to reveal any commentary on or resolution of the theme. The fine balance of neuroses typical of her work has here become intensified and purposeless, leaving only the balance of prose, and ends with no more moralartistic effect than an exhaustive news report.

The six short stories, interesting enough in their way though not important work, are like variations on the constant theme of loneliness. Only "Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland," an amusing anecdote, manages somewhat to escape the theme. "The Jockey" gives a glimpse of loneliness for a friend. "A Domestic Dilemma" exposes the loneliness of a breaking marriage, an "immense complexity of love." Beyond the theme of separation and loneliness, however, there are in these stories other hinted, symbolic revelations.

The novella, The Ballad of the Sad Café, suggests that Mrs. McCullers is working toward a fusing of her anguished major theme with the warm humor so well used in The Member of the Wedding. Yet the anguish turns into despair, for it is shown that, regardless of the object of love, the beloved hates the lover. Miss Amelia, the manlike cafe owner, who never loved anything but her hunchbacked cousin Lymon, is forced into a triangle with her former husband, Macy, who, loving her, has let her drive him to ruin. Fleeing her love, Lymon shows in the culminating first-fight that he prefers to be spurned by Macy, and they go away together.

The structure and writing of this work, imitating ballad simplicity, often fall into archaic self-consciousness—"So do not forget this Marvin Macy, as he is to act a terrible part in the story which is yet to come"—and like The Member of the Wedding this novella seems too attenuated. It has, however, its own queerly ingratiating tone, an outstanding quality in much of Mrs. McCullers' work—a dreamy unreality not altogether created by the strange characters. Possibly this forecasts later fiction in which the integration and humanity of her first novel may merge with the gentle humor and sympathy for eccentric types which pervades the later work.

Frank Durham (essay date Autumn 1957)

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SOURCE: "God and No God in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter," in South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. LVI, No. 4, Autumn, 1957, pp. 494-99.

[In the following essay, Durham discusses the plot of The Heart of a Lonely Hunter, praising the allegorical aspects of the novel and its rebellion against religion and tradition.]

That The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is to be interpreted on more than one level of meaning is undeniable. Carson McCullers herself has called her first novel a "parable in modern form"; and, while reviewers do not take very seriously her statement as to the meaning of this parable, practically every one realizes the importance of symbolism in the book. One critic even went so far as to write that "Carson McCullers is ultimately the artist functioning at the very loftiest symbolic level …"

If, then, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is symbolic, what exactly is the symbolic intent? Mrs. McCullers has called it "the story of Fascism," presenting "the spiritual rather than the political side of that phenomenon," but this interpretation is not shared by many of her readers. Most see the theme as that of human loneliness and the individual's attempts to break through the barriers separating him from other human souls. This is certainly the major theme of the novel and of the corpus of Mrs. McCullers's work. But in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter there is, it seems to me, an ironic religious allegory employed to reinforce the author's concept of the discreteness of human beings, not just from each other, but from God Himself. I call it an allegory because I find an almost continuous presentation of this religious thesis throughout, developing and growing through the narrative, as well as in "accidental" (in the Spenserian sense) symbols which serve to highlight this thesis. The anonymous reviewer in Time suggested, without full development, something of this religious allegory when he said, "The book is … a study in the relationship of human Christs and semi-Christs to a suffering world…." And the sacrilege of the irony implicit in Mrs. McCullers's idea seemingly frightened another reviewer into asking tentatively if she is symbolizing something larger than is apparent.

The religious pattern in the novel involves a kind of pyramidal relationship of six people, though the quartet who form the base are unaware of either the existence or the importance of the one at the apex. These characters, going from apex to base, are Antonapoulas, the spoiled, self-centered Greek mute; John Singer, also a mute and rather an ascetic; Mick Kelly, the twelve-year-old girl who hears music in what she calls her "inside room"; Jake Blount, a half-mad anarchist; the Negro Dr. Copeland, who struggles for his race; and Biff Brannon, the impotent and frustrated cafe proprietor. The last four find their God-image in Singer, who, unknown to them, finds his in the Greek.

The figure of Singer is central. Yet in the opening sections of the novel, before Singer meets his four "visitors," the reader sees him in a position of dependence upon Antonapoulas, with whom he shares a small apartment. When the two walk, "The one who steered the way was an obese and dreamy Greek." Alone together, they find happiness; but it is Singer who does the "talking" in sign-language, with the Greek signaling only an occasional "'Holy Jesus,' or 'God,' or 'Darling Mary,'" and stuffing himself with food and drink. "Singer never knew just how much his friend understood of all the things he told him. But it did not matter." He must tell them. His whole existence is wrapped up in the hedonistic, childish, whimsical Greek, and when the latter is to be sent away to a lunatic asylum, Singer is in a frenzy. His hands are busy telling Antonapoulas all he must say, "all the thoughts that had ever been in his mind and heart, but there was not time." The Greek listens drowsily, leaving Singer ignorant of the success or failure of his attempt at communication.

Once the Greek is gone, Singer is desolate, changing his lodgings, walking restlessly. Now he keeps his hands hidden in his pockets; his means of intimate communication is never used with his "visitors." Finally exhaustion sets in, "and there was a look about him of deep calm. In his face there came to be a brooding peace that is seen most often in the faces of the very sorrowful or the very wise." Throughout the rest of the book, unknown to the others, he lives only for his visits to the asylum, where he is greeted indifferently by Antonapoulas, who evinces interest only in his friend's expensive gifts. Only in the presence of the Greek does Singer reveal his hands and bare the secrets of his heart. Just before the final visit Mrs. McCullers tells what Antonapoulas has meant to Singer:

Behind each waking moment there had always been his friend. And this submerged communion with Antonapoulas had grown and changed as though they were together in the flesh. Sometimes he thought of Antonapoulas with awe and self-abasement, sometimes with pride—always with love unchecked by criticism, freed of will. When he dreamed at night the face of his friend was always before him, massive and wise and gentle. And in his waking thoughts they were eternally united.

It does not appear to me that Mrs. McCullers is trying to suggest an unnatural sexual relationship. Rather it is that Singer endows the Greek with Godlike qualities of understanding and finds solace through the confessional and through the serving of his God. Once the Greek's nod to a nurse "seemed one of benediction rather than a simple nod of thanks"; and Singer's dream of the Greek definitely attributes to him Godlike qualities. This dream passage is filled with both phrases and imagery of a religious nature. In the dream, yellow lanterns illumine dimly

a dark flight of stone steps. Antonapoulas kneeled at the top of these steps. He was naked and he fumbled with something that he held above his head and gazed at as though in prayer. He himself [Singer] knelt half-way down the steps. He was naked and cold and he could not take his eyes from Antonapoulas and the thing he held above him.

Behind Singer and on the ground kneel the four others, and "he felt their eyes on him. And behind them there were uncounted crowds of kneeling people in the darkness." Singer's hands are windmills, and he is fascinated by "the unknown thing that Antonapoulas held." Suddenly there is an upheaval of crashing steps, and Singer falls downward. Here, really, the religious allegory is presented microcosmically.

This religious theme is made more evident in the relationships Singer has with Mick, Jake, Dr. Copeland, and Biff. At first sight of the mute, each is drawn inexplicably to him. All seem to share Biff's feeling about him.

The fellow was downright uncanny. People felt themselves watching him even before they knew that there was anything different about him. His eyes made a person think he heard things nobody else had ever heard, that he knew things no one had ever guessed before. He did not seem quite human.

And to Singer's room in the Kellys' boarding house goes each of the four to talk to him, to unburden innermost thoughts and hatreds and aspirations. His brooding serenity and his silent nod send each away with a feeling of assurance, of blessing, even.

When Jake, the anarchist, goes off with Singer after their first meeting and Biff has been pondering the strange attraction of the mute, it is surely not mere coincidence that Biff overhears his wife preparing as her Sunday School lesson the passage in which Jesus calls Simon and Andrew to be fishers of men: "And when they had found Him, they said unto Him, 'All men seek for Thee.'"

To Mick, Singer "was like some kind of a great teacher, only because he was mute he could not teach." She sees him, too, as "what she used to imagine God was," and she rehearses a group of words "just as she would speak them to Mister Singer: 'Lord forgiveth me, for I knoweth not what I do.'"

And with the others it is the same, though Biff maintains a little detachment and occasionally wonders just how much of what they say Singer really understands.

Aside from these four relationships, Mrs. McCullers underlines Singer as the God-image repeatedly. She more than once refers to his "Jewish face," but never states definitely that he is Semitic. In fact, she has the Jews calling him a Jew, the merchants declaring him wealthy, the textile workers thinking him a C.I.O. organizer, and a lone Turk vowing that Singer is a fellow countryman. Each sees in Singer what he wants to see. Later a Negro woman declares that Singer knows "the way of spirits come back from the dead." Also he is repeatedly giving water and wine and food to his visitors. Often as they talk he sits and moves chessmen on a board. And, if one may go slightly Freudian, this Father-God image is heightened by the fact that Singer works in a jewelry store. Mrs. McCullers's father was a jeweler.

The irony of this allegory and these symbols is, of course, that man makes God in the image of his desire. For Mrs. McCullers's Antonapoulas—God and Singer—God can neither understand their suppliants nor really communicate with them. In an unmailed letter to the Greek (for Antonapoulas cannot read) Singer reveals his bewilderment as to what his visitors seek and find in him. Of Jake Blount he says, "He thinks he and I have a secret together but I do not know what it is"; of Mick, "She likes music. I wish I knew what it is she hears. She knows I am deaf but she thinks I know about music"; of Dr. Copeland, "This black man frightens me sometimes. His eyes are hot and bright…. He has many books. However, he does not own any mystery books." Singer's only reading is mystery books. Biff he passes off with the comment: "he is not just like the others. He has a very black beard so that he has to shave twice daily…. He watches." Unlike the others, Biff seems to him to have nothing he hates or loves excessively. But Biff does have something; and Singer is not quite sure what it is the others hate and love. Later he admits to himself that "He had agreed with each of them in turn, though what it was they wanted him to sanction he did not know." We have seen that Antonapoulas did not understand Singer, as Singer was sure that he did. The muteness, then, engenders mystery, but behind the mystery lies misunderstanding—or nothing.

So Singer, on whom the other four leaned, was even more dependent than they. For when the Greek died, Singer shot himself, leaving his personal affairs in a terrible mess. When God is dead, life is over for Singer. But when their God dies, Mick and Jake and Biff and the Doctor are only changed, left baseless for a while. For each, life goes on—a different life, but life. Mick, her music a bitter memory, clerks at Woolworth's; Jake goes blundering off to preach his diatribes against capitalism elsewhere; Biff phlegmatically watches the customers in his New York Cafe and yearns for children to mother; old, sick, and broken, the Doctor alone seems defeated, and he is carried off to the country leaving the struggle for his people unfinished. But even he has the fortitude to wait for death. Without God, then, life goes on, but something—a touch of glory, a feeling of communion with an all-encompassing understanding—has gone from it.

Perhaps there is also a larger symbolic framework to this allegory of the personal relationship between the individual and his self-created God. Antonapoulas is Greek; Singer has a "Jewish face." Like the gods of classical antiquity, of paganism, Antonapoulas is whimsical, selfish, scandalous, sensual, and at the same time capable of seeming wise, of bringing consolation and reassurance to his devotee. Singer, like the Christian deity, is ascetic, reflective, withdrawn, and yet intimate. For a while the two share the same dwelling, with the Greek as the dominating spirit. Then the Greek is thrown into the discard, discredited as it were by the label of lunacy; and Singer, alone but always aware of his own dependence on the past, assumes the mantle of divinity. Then, perhaps Mrs. McCullers is saying, with the destruction of the pagan past the Christian myth derived from it collapses.

At any rate, here is the religious allegory which seems to underlie and to reinforce the theme of loneliness in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. It is not an intricately perfected allegory, and often its symbolism is fuzzy. But it does seem apparent that the author has written an iconoclastic religious novel, ambitious, sensitive, vivid, and underlaid with the rebellion against tradition not unexpected in a precocious young woman of twenty-two.

Robert S. Phillips (essay date Winter 1964)

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SOURCE: "The Gothic Architecture of The Member of the Wedding," in Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature, Vol. XVI, No. 2, Winter, 1964, pp. 59-72.

[In the following essay, Phillips discusses how McCullers' works fit into the genre of the modern Gothic novel.]

The Modern Gothic in American literature, the genre of the grotesque, is currently the subject of much discussion by Leslie Fielder, William Van O'Connor, Irving Malin and other critics. The novels of the South written in this century—works by William Faulkner, Truman Capote, Flannery O'Connor and Carson McCullers—are in particular classified as Gothic. A plethora of Faulkner studies have already been published. Capote and Miss O'Connor, on the other hand, are writers in mid-career. Carson McCullers, however, has produced a distinguished body of fiction during the past three decades, a corpus which is only beginning to receive a deserved recognition. The novels of Mrs. McCullers are perhaps the most typical and most rewarding exemplars of Southern Gothicism in this century. The purpose of this essay is, first, to define those themes and fictional devices which constitute Gothicism in the contemporary American novel, and secondly, to examine their particular use by Mrs. McCullers. The Member of the Wedding has been chosen for close study because, of all the author's fiction, it has reached the widest audience—as a novel, a successful Broadway play, as a film—and at the same time being the most misinterpreted. Other critics writing on the element of the grotesque in her works invariably examine Reflections in a Golden Eye and The Ballad of the Sad Café, two dark tales indeed, consigning The Member of the Wedding to the ranks of popular novels about troubled adolescence. As late as 1961, in a review which appeared in the New York Times Book Review, Irving Howe refers to the novel as both "sentimental" and "lovely"! This essay attempts to place Wedding at last in its proper context, within the world of Mrs. McCullers' Gothic imagination.

The Southern Gothic novel is characterized by violent themes; in this respect it resembles the work of Matthew Gregory Lewis, Anne Radcliffe, and other early English Gothicists whose work centered about brutality and torture. The contemporary Gothic novel is not Gothic in the sense that it widely employs the properties of tombs, dungeons, passageways, supernatural phenomena such as ghosts and fireballs, pestilential diseases and the like. However, the South has, through the multitude of nightmarish novels, taken on the symbolic overtones associated with Italy in some early Gothic novels, which Leslie Fiedler (Love and Death in the American Novel) has characterized as, "… a background of miasmic swamps, death, defeat, mutilation, idiocy, and lust continues to evoke in the stories of these writers a shudder once compelled by the supernatural."

While the symbolic backgrounds of the early Gothic novels and the twentieth-century Southern Gothic novels resemble one another at times, the narrative action differs. The active agent of terror in the eighteenth-century Gothic tale was the villain. His function was to pursue the heroine throughout the castle's vaults and labyrinths—which pursuit constituted the bulk of the plot. The modern novel for the most part no longer indulges in such melodrama. The mind of the serious artist has turned inward, and with the acknowledgement of Freudian psychology and Freud's interpretation of dreams, the focal point of fiction has shifted from the action of the chase to the mind of the chased.

The new Gothic novels are tales of tormented souls who view the world as a maze. The problems which confront them are as complicated and terrifying as the twisted labyrinths of the Gothic castle. A typical modern Gothic theme involves rites of passage for the innocent into a violent world. The hero often is an individual who feels persecuted and inferior, and who withdraws from the actual world into a world of magnified fears and nightmares. This withdrawal results in a state of personal dissociation from society, a state of gnawing loneliness. Frequently frustrated in love, the hero either lives out his days in terrible isolation or becomes in one way or another sexually perverted, the search for a sexless, dim ideal, a manifestation of the hero's avoidance and fear of reality.

The theme of the modern Gothic novel is, then, spiritual isolation. In one of her infrequent essays (Esquire, Dec. 1959), Mrs. McCullers has stated her conscious concern with this theme:

Spiritual isolation is the basis of most of my themes. My first book was concerned with this, almost entirely, and all of my books since, in one way or another. Love, and especially love of a person who is incapable of returning or receiving it, is at the heart of my selection of grotesque figures to write about—people whose physical incapacity to love or receive love—their spiritual isolation.

All Mrs. McCullers' characters are doomed to solitary confinement within the cell of self. Sometimes they make pitiful attempts at escape—as in the child Bubber's running away from home down the state highway in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, or the Negress Berenice Sadie Brown's replacing her bad eye with one of light blue glass in The Member of the Wedding. Such attempts to change one's situation, to avoid reality, are futile. Each is eternally isolated with his problems, like, writes Mario Praz, "the unfortunate persecuted maiden" of the Gothic novel.

Mrs. McCullers writes of a no-exit world, and it is not accidental that all her novels are set in the slow, unbearably hot and monotonous summer months when "there is nothing whatsoever to do" in a town that "is lonesome, sad, and like a place that is far off and estranged from all other places in the world," in fact, an inferno. Attempts to escape hellish isolation through communication are impossible; time and again in her novels thought and deed are misunderstood or ignored. In The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter the most eloquent of the characters is Singer, a deaf-mute, eloquent because only he seems to communicate comfort, to sing the soul's songs, to all who seek his company. The inclusion of a pair of mutes in the novel is not morbidity on the part of the author, as has been frequently charged; it is instead a brilliant symbolization of man's condition. Even "normal" adults in the novels cannot escape their frustrations and feelings of alienation through the process of loving or confiding in one another. Love too often is thwarted and the lover suffers all the more for his longings, a thesis which is the very basis for The Ballad of the Sad Café. Rather than comfort we find fear: the terror which comes from the knowledge that one is alone in an indifferent or hostile universe.

This theme of the failure of love is a corollary of the Gothic theme of spiritual isolation. It is a theme which obsessed an earlier writer of Gothic stories in America, Edgar Allan Poe. Love fails because its ecstasy is an ephemeral thing. As D. H. Lawrence observed in Studies in Classic American Literature, "the first law of life is that each organism is isolate in itself, it must return to its own isolation." All the tales of Poe are, according to Praz, a "symbolical, mythological translation of the same thirst for unrealizable love and of the desire for that complete fusion with the beloved being which ends in Vampirism." The same futile quest for unity in love is a recurring theme in Mrs. McCullers' fiction. This theme illustrates Fiedler's statement about modern Gothicism in the American novel, that "the primary meaning of the Gothic romance, then, lies in its substitution of terror for love as a central theme." The figure at the center of the McCullersnovel, in his confusion and desperation, is unable to find solace in another soul and therefore is terrified at his enforced solitude and inadequacy.

Other themes which relate more directly to the Gothic as it has descended from the graveyard poets can be found in Mrs. McCullers' treatment of the taboo. Homosexuality and perversion and miscegenation often are explicit in her work. Fiedler has noted that, "Our great novelists, though experts on indignity and assault, on loneliness and terror, tend to avoid treating the passionate encounter of a man and woman, which we expect at the center of a novel…." While one cannot totally agree with Mr. Fiedler, and call all American literature a Gothic literature, it is clear that the work of Carson McCullers belongs within that body of our literature which is Gothic in theme and method. Instead of romantic couples or brave heroes and heroines we find homosexuals and lesbians, flowers of evil dotting a grotesque landscape. The perverted and pusillanimous characters of McCullers experience no love affairs of permanent value. The lover is forever rebuked, unrecognized, or the subject of mistaken intentions. Often the mental unbalance of these characters is symbolized by their physical infirmity. Mrs. McCullers has told us of her characters being "People whose physical incapacity is a symbol of their spiritual incapacity to love or receive love." Her novels are highly symbolic and often nearly allegorical. Her symbolic method will be discussed shortly.

Many of the plots in Mrs. McCullers' novels abound in frightful torture scenes and violent deaths. The inclusion of such atrocities is prompted by both the central theme and the symbolic method of her work. In a sense the theme of her novels is violation—the ravaging of the spirit by a cruel universe. The inhumanity carried on in the South has given Mrs. McCullers and her regional contemporaries much to contemplate, and it is perhaps this violence and the accompanying psychological guilt which have produced the "Southern Gothic" novel. The problem of segregation serves to illustrate Mrs. McCullers' frequent theme of isolation, and the treatment received by the Negroes underscores the element of terror. Violence in the McCullers Gothic novel is functional: it serves to illustrate the world as she sees it. This is how the modern Gothic novel resembles the works of the Romantics, those writers for whom "beauty was enhanced by exactly those qualities which seem to deny it, by those objects which produce horror; the sadder, the more painful it was, the more intensely they relished it." There are horrible visions in McCullers because this is what she finds in our age, and because that is what obsesses her. It is not a long jump from the torture chamber scenes in the novels of "Monk" Lewis to the white-supremist inspired atrocities in her fiction. The wandering of the McCullers heroine from one frightful scene to another is a parallel to the plot of the early Gothic novel. If her novels seem sensational as a result, I suspect her intentions have in part been realized. The modern Gothic novel is sensational because it is written, at least partially, to be didactic, to shock the reader into recognition. In the concluding paragraph of William Faulkner's most terrible and Gothic novel (Absalom, Absalom) the hero, when asked why he hates the South, insists: "I don't hate it I don't. I don't. I don't hate it! I don't hate it!" The Southern Gothicist writes about mutilation and awful sin because that is what deeply concerns him about his region. Another Southerner whose sensationalism is often called lurid is Tennessee Williams. In an introduction to one of Mrs. McCullers' novels, Williams has stated that the modern Gothicist uses symbols of the grotesque and the violent "Because a book is short and a man's life is long. The awfulness has to be compressed." He sees the American Gothic novel linked to the French Existentialist novel, with the common denominator being "a sense, an intuition, of an underlying dreadfulness in modern experience." It is this dreadfulness in our quotidian lives that has been the primary theme of Mrs. McCullers' five novels.

Mrs. McCullers often adopts Gothic properties as a means of projecting this awful image of the world. The presence of an ominous setting, the casting of a spell of melancholy and dread, through descriptions of decay and torture, are sometimes important in her craft. Many of the Southern Gothicists employ the decaying plantation manse in place of the ruined castle as symbol of the collapse of an order. This fall of the Old South is equivalent to the character's sense of loss and insecurity, his dissociation. Mrs. McCullers' fictional method for the most part, however, employs the Gothic as an element rather than a controlling situation or definite setting. We should therefore look not so much for actual fallen mansions in her work, but rather for the metaphorically fallen mansions, the disorder and insecurity and lack of moral center which so disturb the minds of her Southern characters. These characters are so tormented that they feel compelled to perform such actions as Jake Blount's driving a nail through his outstretched palm (Lonely Hunter), Sherman Pew's hanging his friend's dog by a clothesline (Clock Without Hands), and Alison Langdon's cutting off her nipples with garden shears (Reflections in a Golden Eye). These are violent actions and often the criticism is raised that McCullers' novels contain too many such scenes. Yet the frenzied pitch of the Gothic plot, often drawing upon sadistic and masochistic emotions, helps project the particular vision which is Mrs. McCullers' world. She has obviously felt the need to employ the terrible world of the Gothic to find images and actions of adequate emotional impact, just as the Marquis de Sade justified the "new novel" of Europe in his time:

For those who knew all the miseries with which scoundrelscan oppress men, the novel became as hard to write as it was monotonous to read…. It was necessary to call hell to the rescue … and to find in the world of the nightmare … images adequate to "tell the history of man in this Iron Age."

One of the means by which Mrs. McCullers conveys the sense of a nightmare world is through her gallery of grotesque characters. The background of her novels is seldom the recognizable South, with a normal pattern of activities. Her world is populated with abnormal beings. It is in this symbolic method that she literally calls "hell to the rescue" and creates a nightmare vision. The physical deformity of her characters serves to symbolize their isolation, since freaks are singular beings not acceptable to our society. Freaks of course have long been stock characters in Gothic tales: the hunchback, the scar face, the Frankensteinian monsters which endanger the body and spirit of the beholder are familiar nightmare constituents. Among those naturally deformed, Mrs. McCullers' characters include two deaf mutes, two hunchbacks, two giant-sized women, a chinless girl, several deformed babies, and numerous ruptured and impotent men. Others of her characters are deformed by man's violence: the negroes Willie and Wagon both have their legs sawed off; Sherman Pew is shocked into a permanent speech impediment; Lon Baker's throat is slit from ear to ear. There are also natural diseases which distort the spirit as well as the body: three cases of cancer, leukemia, a diseased ovary, a paralyzed hand—all found among her cast of characters in five novels.

These unfortunate, persecuted characters reveal the author's obsession with the classic problem of evil. This problem, as posed by the unknown author of the Book of Job, and by other religious thinkers, is the question: Given a good Creator, how can there be evil in the creation? Time and again in Mrs. McCullers' fiction we find good people who suffer and are overcome by their suffering. John Singer, of Lonely Hunter, is an upright man who is afflicted with muteness, and whose only love object is removed by death. Mick Kelly, of the same novel, wishes to become a great musician, but is forced by family poverty to work in a five-and-ten. In this sense a good many of the Gothic characters in the McCullers canon are grotesque in form only: repulsively hunchbacked or frightfully oversized, but inwardly not evil. The original Gothic novels employed grotesquely featured people as personifications of the evil in the world; Mrs. Shelley's monster was ugly because he performed ugly deeds and caused others to suffer. Mrs. McCullers' monsters, however, are ugly because their appearance is a projection of their internal suffering. Instead of being the menacers, they are the menaced; instead of the victimizers, they are the victims. Hugo McPherson notes in an article which appeared in Tamarack Review, "her characters, like Kafka's and Truman Capote's, are the ill-prepared and the ill-equipped; they seek not victory over life but a secure haven, and the struggle is not a glory but an almost unbearable violation of the self."

These deformities or illnesses so affect the unfortunate characters that they withdraw into the world of self. Such loneliness and frustration are portrayed in another set of characters as well. Supplementing the freaks in her novels are the self-conscious adolescents. Members of this group are equally isolated, belonging neither to the child's world or the adult's. Mrs. McCullers sees the figure of the groping adolescent as another symbolic realization of our life of fear. Writes Fiedler, "The child's world is not only asexual, it is terrible: the world of fear and loneliness, a haunted world." To this group belong Mick Kelly, Frankie Adams of Member of the Wedding, and Sherman Pew of Clock Without Hands. A third classification of characters in the novels is those belonging to minority groups, the violated Negroes and persecuted Jews who suffer in their segregation and torment.

The author's chief characters possess an ambiguous and troubled sexuality. Some are asexual, like Miss Amelia of The Ballad of the Sad Café. The boy-girls of adolescence go by names like "Mick" and "Frankie," names that characterize their neuter nature. Others are inverted sexually, their deviation further isolating them from the normal world. These adult sexual deviates are plagued by their perverse wills and long to experience the normal love which is not open to them. In her first novel, Biff Brannon is impotent, thus incapable of any active sexual activity—normal or devious—which could afford him gratification. In Biff's case, the result is the development of strong feelings for young children, feelings both paternal and maternal. John Singer, Captain Penderton of Reflections in a Golden Eye, and Jester Clane of Clock Without Hands, are all bisexual; these characters of conflicting male-female emotions can be compared to the androgynous mythological figure of Tiresias. The figure of the wandering spirit, blind and yet seeing, torn between the opposing sides of a dual nature, personifies the frustrated characters of McCullers. There is something frightening about these, their abnormal actions, their secret desires. In this respect the androgynous figures in her novels implement the feeling of dread, being both "sexless and lascivious" and a part of the Gothic machinery.

We have illustrated that the actions of these sexually thwarted souls are often violent. Especially so are the several attempts at self-emasculation of the male, de-sexualization of the female. There are also attempts at self-crucifixion. Not all of the characters take such drastic physical action. Some simply sit and daydream in a state of somnambulant lethargy, or are visited by terrible nightmares. Several have necrophilistic visions, haunted by dreams of beautiful babies rotting in their tiny coffins. Others are drawn in horrified fascination to the caskets of dead relatives, lingering more out of curiosity than sympathy. Surely these are Gothic scenes, and Mrs. McCullers spares no detail. The ruminations of Alison Langdon on the death of her child in Reflections in a Golden Eye are typical:

for a long time she had been obsessed by the sharp, morbid image of the little boy in the grave. Her horrified brooding on decay and on that tiny lonely skeleton had brought her to such a state that at last, after considerable red tape, she had had the coffin disinterred.

There are terrible death scenes in the novels, especially the deaths of Lon Baker, Uncle Charles, and John Henry. The supernatural is suggested in one novel, and miscegenation spelled out in another.

Just as the castle's dungeon was the prevailing setting for the English Gothic novel, many scenes drawn by Mrs. McCullers are similarly oppressing sites. Jail houses figure symbolically in several of the novels, and the trapped occupants are representative of man's fate. These jails are described as dark, vile, and inescapable. Freak shows and asylums also are used with similar effect.

Carson McCullers' writing, then, employs Gothic elements both in theme and method. Her five novels stand, as Mr. Fiedler has pointed out, not merely as parables of "terror filling the vacuum left by the suppression of sex in our novels, of Thanatos standing in for Eros," but in addition they project a dark vision of the contemporary American and his "obsession with the violence and his embarrassment before love"—his isolation and failure in communication. In their search for identity which becomes inwardly directed, these characters are like the heroines of the Gothicists, whose flights were from "out of the known world into a dark region of make-believe." Having failed to understand man's inhumanity to man and their own personal dissociation, her characters resort to daydreaming, and are plagued by horrible nightmares—a fate far worse than physically battling the rigors of the universe; for as Fiedler exclaims, "The final horrors are neither gods nor demons, but intimate aspects of our own minds." The minotaur in the labyrinth of self is not easily overcome.

Leslie Fiedler has stated in An End to Innocence that "images of childhood and adolescence haunt our greatest works as an unintended symbolic confession of the inadequacy we sense but cannot remedy." The Member of the Wedding (1946) is a very intentional use of the adolescent as symbol for that sense of inadequacy and helplessness. The novel's title refers to Frankie Addams, a sensitive and fearful child whose thirteenth summer is the subject of the novel. The cast of characters is very small—Frankie primarily associates with only two other people—and the book is a study of her loneliness and isolation. Frankie's fears are the fears of all human beings, and the last name of Addams indicates her archetypal function in her initiation into worldly knowledge. The self-chosen nickname of Frankie (like the name Mick Kelly) is a feeble effort on the part of the adolescent to assert her individuality in a patriarchal culture, as is the crew cut which makes her a neuter being.

The summer during which the novel's action occurs is described as "the summer of fear," and Frankie is plagued by many nightmares and terrible visions. It is for this reason that the novel can be called Gothic, and not because there is "a female homosexual romance between the boy-girl Frankie and a Negro cook" as Fiedler so glibly conjectures. One dream which frightens Frankie is of a beckoning door which slowly begins to open and draw her in. What lies beyond that door—maturity, truth, knowledge—is a mystery to her, and she is frightened by the unknown. Frankie is afraid of her own growth. Having grown four inches in the past year, she towers above her classmates and is fearful that she will become "a lady who is over nine feet high. She would be a Freak." Frankie visits the carnival's Freak House, and has been terrified by the knowing eyes of the grotesques she sees there: "it seemed to her they had looked at her in a secret way and tried to connect their eyes with hers, as though to say: We know you." Frankie feels the grotesques have recognized her own freakish and guilt-ridden soul.

The Freak House is not the only place that frightens the girl: "the jail had scared and haunted her that spring and summer." She also feels the ghastly looking prisoners "know her" for what she is—and that she too is trapped, though she is free to move about and they are not. The very existence of the jail house haunts her: "the criminals were caged in stone cells with iron bars before the windows, and though they might beat on the stone walls or wrench at the iron bars, they could never get out." Frankie imagines herself so trapped, and her confidante, Berenice Sadie Brown, reveals to her that it is the human predicament.

A third house she visits which terrifies her is the residence of Big Mama, an old fortune-telling Negress said to possess supernatural powers. Though Frankie fears her she turns to Big Mama's powers in her search for answers to the ultimate question of human suffering and death, the problem of evil. But Frankie is not satisfied with the answers Big Mama gives her, and she is left with her feeling of "the sense of something terribly gone wrong."

Running away from one frightening scene only to encounter another, Frankie is the Gothic heroine encountering the chambers of horrors. In the course of the summer she is haunted by three gruesome deaths of acquaintances. These deaths are described by Mrs. McCullers in very graphic terms, the verbal intensity matching the strong impressions made upon Frankie's mind. The first of these is the unmotivated murder of the Negro boy, Lon Baker, in the alley directly behind her father's jewelry store:

On an April afternoon his throat was slashed with a razor blade, and all the alley people disappeared in back doorways, and later it was said his cut throat opened like a crazy shivering mouth that spoke ghost words into the April sun.

The silent flapping mouth of Lon's throat parallels Frankie's own inarticulate attempts at communication.

The death of her Uncle Charles is more immediate to Frankie, and his ghastly passing pricks her awareness of mortality and her own insignificance in the cosmos. She fears death:

He lay in the bed, shrunken and brown and very old. Then his voice failed and when he tried to talk, it was as though his throat had filled with glue, and they could not understand the words. He looked like an old man carved in brown wood and covered with a sheet. Only his eyes had moved, and they were like blue jelly, and she had felt they might come out from the sockets and roll like blue wet jelly down his stiff face. She had stood in the doorway staring at him—then tiptoed away, afraid.

Again Frankie is aghast not only because of the pain involved in dying, but also because of the hopeless inability of the dying to communicate to the living.

The greatest shock however comes with the death of John Henry, her only young friend. Sickly and frail, John Henry in his confinement had become associated in Frankie's mind with her own isolation. The two of them seemed to share the same condition as recluses and even outcasts. With the loss of this rapport, Frankie finally feels any meaning to her life has vanished. All that remains is the spirit of John Henry which seems to visit her. Sitting in the kitchen she "felt his presence there, solemn and hovery and ghost-gray." Time and again she is to recall his torturous death:

John Henry had been screaming for three days and his eyeballs were walled up in a corner, stuck and blind. He lay there finally with his head drawn back in a buckled way, and he had lost the strength to scream. He died the Tuesday after the Fair was gone.

This last statement reveals much of what Frankie has had to learn. After the fair—the brief pleasantries of life—comes the blackness of death. But The Member of the Wedding is more than a novel of one girl's initiation; it is impossible to read the account of John Henry's death and still regard the work as a charming account of adolescence as many critics have done. In its cataloguing of death scenes the novel plays upon the reader's fear of death and the dead, a characteristic theme of Gothic novels.

The story's action primarily occurs in a setting which is ominous and depressing to the heroine. There is no dank dungeon in the novel—but the kitchen of the Addams home is a place of confinement and dread for Frankie. Spurned by the other girls because of her unusual size, Frankie finds herself continually sitting in the dark kitchen whose very walls she hates. The kitchen is Frankie's private hell, "a sad and ugly room," and Frankie often feels she will go berserk if she has to remain there any longer. Indeed the kitchen is like "a room in the crazy-house," because John Henry has covered the walls with queer and childish drawings which run together in confusion: "The walls of the kitchen bothered Frankie—the queer drawings of Christmas trees, airplanes, freak soldiers, flowers." Such varied drawings make the walls a projection of the world itself, a microcosm of the macrocosm. Frankie in her confinement seems to sense this, staring at the walls and commenting that "the world is certainly a small place." Life is hell for the adolescent Frankie; she feels there is no escape from her fate, and she hates her environment, thinking she "lived in the ugliest house in town," viewing the sunshine as "the bars of a bright, strange jail." Such imagery clearly reveals the author deliberately giving us another trapped, suffering and helpless female within a Gothic framework, every bit as anguished as Alison Langdon of Reflections in a Golden Eye, her most overtly Gothic novel.

Frankie Addams' problem is that same sense of spiritual isolation which blights all the McCullers characters: "Between herself and all other places there was a space like an enormous canyon she could not hope to bridge or cross." Frankie has felt neglect and isolation to the point that she wails, "I am sick unto death." Her height of course symbolizes her alienation from her peers. She not only is excluded from the girls' club because she is bigger and seems older than the rest, but she has also been ejected from her father's bed which she used to share as a child. Frankie feels the eternal outsider. She cries in anguish over her plight:

All other people had a we to claim, all others except her. When Berenice said we, she meant Honey and Big Mama, her lodge, or her church. The we of her father was the store. All members of clubs have a we to belong to and talk about. The soldiers in the army can say we, and even the criminals on chain-gangs. But the old Frankie had no we to claim.

Frankie watches the soldiers who travel in loud groups about the town, and envies their strong camaraderie (as does Captain Penderton in Reflections in a Golden Eye).

Spurned by her father and the girls her age, Frankie seeks solace in the company of John Henry, her little cousin. This relationship is unsatisfactory, since John Henry is too young to share many of her interests. Frankie's feelings for him are partly motivated by her quest for a father-figure, since her own father is too busy running his jewelry store. John Henry partially fills this gap in her life, and Frankie thinks he looks "like a tiny watchmaker."

The third major character, Berenice Sadie Brown, feels the burden of the color of her own skin, symbolized by her last name. She brings to Frankie her pessimistic philosophy of man's fate, telling her all mortals are caught in a trap:

I'm caught worse than you is. Because I am black. Because I am colored. Everybody is caught one way or another. But they done drawn completely extra bonds around all colored people. They done squeezed us off in one corner by oneself. So we caught that first way I was telling you, as all human beings is caught. And we caught as colored peoples also.

Berenice concludes simply by remarking of mankind, "They were born … and they going to die." Frankie ponders her new knowledge of mortality as well as her increasing catalog of sexual facts and realizes that she must protect John Henry's innocence, to keep him a child as long as possible. She not only pities John Henry because he is sickly; she also pities him because in the doomed John Henry she sees herself: "He looked at her with eyes as china as a doll's, and in them there was only the reflection of her own lost face." John Henry provides a narcissistic image for Frankie, as did Antonapoulos for Singer, in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.

Frankie also resembles Mick Kelly of Lonely Hunter, being troubled by sexuality. Throughout the novel Frankie skirts the periphery of sexual experience, and there are five acts of sexual initiation contained in the novel, each more personal than the last. Frankie's adolescence is spent running away from sex, just as the Gothic heroine flees from her seducers. Frankie refuses to believe those "nasty lies about married people" told by the girls in the club. She had had a physical contact with a male and it caused her much mental anguish:

In the MacKean's garage, with Barney MacKean, they committed a queer sin, and how bad it was she did not know. The sin made a shriveling sickness in her stomach, and she dreaded the eyes of everyone.

Her sexual experiences of the summer culminate when a drunken soldier tries to seduce her in a dark room over the Blue Moon Cafe. She fights with her assailant and manages to knock him unconscious with a bottle. She flees the scene and for weeks is possessed by the fear she has killed a man. Frankie does not undergo a complete sexual initiation through intercourse, as does Mick Kelly, whom she so greatly resembles in all other respects. But Mick is more aggressive and has more natural curiosity. Frankie's flight from sexuality is both mental and physical. When she does find someone to love, it is not a teen-age boy, but rather the artistic Mary Littlejohn. Frankie is fascinated by Mary's Catholicism, unknown and Papal affiliations intriguing her: "This difference was a final touch of strangeness, silent terror, that completed the wonder of her love." The fear of Catholicism and the Catholic ritual was, of course, the basis of a number of the earliest Gothic romances.

Frankie clings to Mary because she does not think she will ever be loved by, or be able to love, a man. Mary is a little John, then, a surrogate male lover. In The Member of the Wedding Mrs. McCullers first introduces her theory of love, a theory which received full treatment in her succeeding book, The Ballad of the Sad Café. Berenice rambles on to Frankie about the unpredictable nature of man in choosing a beloved:

I have knew mens to fall in love with girls so ugly you wonder if their eyes is straight. I have seen some of the most peculiar weddings anybody could conjecture. Once I knew a boy with his whole face burned off so that …

Here Mrs. McCullers tells us that in matters of love the appearance of the beloved is of no more moment than the reciprocity of the emotion. The important thing is the release from isolation which the act of loving gives to the lover. Yet we find in The Ballad that the lover suffers all the more through his attempts to escape loneliness in this way. Even Berenice has suffered as a result of her seemingly perfect union with Ludie Freeman. Since his death she has felt a terrible void: "Sometimes I almost wish I had never knew Ludie at all. It spoils you too much. It leaves you too lonesome afterward." Ludies was not a "freeman" at all; being mortal, he too had to die and cause grief to his beloved.

Berenice's search for love parallels Frankie's, though in a later stage of life. She possesses the worldly knowledge that Frankie lacks. The blue glass eye she has bought gives her a "two-sighted expression," which is the physical symptom of her psychic perception. The experience of four marriages contrasts with Frankie's innocence. Berenice's last three marriages have left her unsatisfied. She hysterically calls out for Ludie Maxwell Freeman. These subsequent marriages were desperate attempts to replace him. She marries Jamie Beale because he has a mangled thumb like Ludie. She marries Henry Johnson because he wears Ludie's pawned great-coat. "What I did," confesses the miserable Berenice, "was to marry off little pieces of Ludie whenever I came across them. It was just my misfortune they all turned out to be the wrong pieces."

Both Frankie and Berenice have one opportunity for momentary escape from their dreadful ennui and frustration. The announcement of a wedding for Frankie's older brother Jarvis excites their imaginations, especially Frankie's. Love-hungry, she decides that she will join her brother and his bride and travel to Alaska with them, away from the heat and confinement of the South. Mrs. McCullers, like Hemingway, uses the snowy North as a symbol for escape to a pristine and pure ideal.

A wedding of course is a joining of lives, the creation of a new family. Frankie above all else has needed a close family experience. As a bridesmaid, she would finally be a member of something, a member of the wedding, and would be given identity and purpose. Frankie's plan to join the young couple on their honeymoon is doomed for failure, as are all fantastic plans for escape in the five McCullers novels. Frankie is totally unrealistic in her plans, thinking the move will end all her worries: "We will have thousands of friends, thousands and thousands and thousands of friends. We will belong to so many clubs that we can't even keep track of all of them." She fails to realize she must work out her own future without the couple as a crutch.

From beginning to end the wedding is a nightmare. The chance never comes for Frankie to announce her intentions, and she has to be bodily dragged from the car when she tries to cling to the newlyweds on their departure. After Frankie returns home she concludes that though the wedding has not provided an escape, she will still leave town. Her feelings of isolation are intense that evening as she slips out into the streets. The alleys are gloomy and she imagines the long dark car she sees to be that of a terrible gangster. Alone and frightened, she prays for company: "There was only knowing that she must find somebody, anybody, that she could join with to go away. For now she admitted she was too scared to go into the world alone."

The frail heroine alone in the night—again we find the typical Gothic situation. Frankie is isolated and always will be. The trip around the world with Mary Littlejohn is merely another pipe dream like that of the wedding. On this point I cannot agree with Ihab Hassan, who sees the novel's (Radical Innocence, 1961) conclusion as optimistic and Frankie's actions "a final affirmation of youth's resilience." Hassan sees Frankie as moving "beyond the acrid feeling that the world has cheated her." This does not seem to be the case at all. Both Frankie's mother and John Henry are dead, and Berenice deserts her to marry for a fifth time in her never-ending search for fulfillment. Berenice's departure signals the total collapse of Frankie's "family" (just as the cook Verily's leaving the senile judge in Clock Without Hands creates a void in the life of a white person dependent upon a black). Frankie will continue to be an overly tall, self-conscious and unloved person in the years to follow.

There is a miniature parable contained in this novel. The restless organ grinder and his monkey, forever wandering like minstrels throughout the book, are representative of humanity: "They would look at each other with the same scared exasperation, their wrinkled faces very sad." The novel is sad indeed, but the Gothic method of the author intensifies the grief and terror. "The life which she creates is not the raw documentary of experience that has dominated American fiction since the twenties, but life as the imagination apprehends it, rich in atmosphere but stripped of non-essentials," agrees Hugo McPherson. Universally proclaimed a novel of tender adolescence by the critics, The Member of the Wedding provokes frightening responses in the reader which for too long have been overlooked. With its moribund setting, fear of sexuality, terrifying death scenes, dark dreams and nightmares—even touches of fear of Catholicism and the supernatural—the novel is yet another manifestation of the author's Gothic vision. It is also the novel which best stands comparison with Mrs. McCullers' undisputed masterpiece, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.

Joseph R. Millichap (essay date January 1971)

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SOURCE: "The Realistic Structure of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter," in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 17, No. 1, January, 1971, pp. 11-17.

[In the following essay, Millichap discusses the structure and genre of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.]

Carson McCullers produced before her death in 1967 a small but impressive body of fiction: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, 1940; Reflections in a Golden Eye, 1941; The Member of the Wedding, 1946; The Ballad of the Sad Café, 1951; Clock Without Hands, 1961; and twelve short stories published between 1936 and 1967. Her career was marked by successes, both popular and critical, and by controversy. The controversial aspects of her work become apparent in even a cursory examination of the criticism concerned with it. Conflicting opinions regarding the interpretation of individual works, the value of her overall achievement, and her place in American literary history abound. Some commentators compare her favorably with Faulkner, others judge her a failure; some find in her work a stark realism, others a Gothic romanticism. This latter critical dichotomy has created an unresolved problem in the analysis of her fiction. The present article demonstrates through structural analysis the psychological and social realism of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, her most typical and successful novel.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is the focus of the debate over the realistic versus the romantic, or Gothic, aspects of Carson McCullers' work. Most critics have interpreted the novel as an allegory, a Gothic romance, or a fable (or some combination of these types) and insisted on the absence of any social interest. Chester Eisinger's remarks are typical: "A peripheral matter in this novel [Heart] is the way in which Mrs. McCullers treats social problems." Ihab Hassan deems the novel a failure because its form does not connect social man and individual man. Yet one of the most influential studies of the genre, Leslie Fiedler's Love and Death in the American Novel characterizes Mrs. McCullers' first novel as "… the last of the 'proletarian novels,' a true Depression book."

These critical differences can only be resolved through a careful analysis of the novel's structure, though Heart certainly presents many structural difficulties. First, its third person omniscient point of view is complicated by its assimilation into the viewpoints of four major characters (Biff, Mick, Blount, and Copeland), who in turn become the central intelligences of individual chapters. The other chapters, dealing with Singer and Antonapoulos, remain very definitely third person. This arrangement raises a question: Who is the protagonist of the novel? No single character appears capable of claiming that distinction. Singer stands at the center of the grouping of characters, but he remains almost as enigmatic to the reader as to his fellow lonely hearts. Mick is the most fully developed individual, yet she had little insight into her own or others' problems. Biff has the clearest vision and the last word, but in his observer's role he functions only as a minor element of plot structure. The action of the novel, in fact, is not centered on any one individual; it involves the social group, both the central characters and the whole mill-city society.

The structure of the novel is tripartite. Part One introduces style, character, setting, plot, and theme through the depiction of the Singer-Antonapoulos relationship, its disintegration, and Singer's subsequent involvements with the other characters. Part One also establishes the fundamental tension between the personal and the social worlds, as the central human relationship is mirrored in the social lives of all the other characters. And finally Part One of Heart serves as an introduction to what Mrs. McCullers called "the general web of the book." Part Two contains the major plot development; it completes the web. Part Two comprises fifteen chapters: five centered around Mick, three around Copeland, two each around Blount and Biff, with three summary or "legendary" chapters. This part covers exactly one year from July, 1938 to July, 1939; during this interval the characters are seen to evolve through an elaborate though coherently structured series of events, which are carefully interconnected to form the plot. Here the author achieves a more complex picture of the mill-city and its inhabitants which stresses social problems and their foundation in the individual personality. The greater scope of the section allows Mrs. McCullers to consider those particular social ills which plague her characters: Blount provides a connection with economic exploitation, Copeland with racial prejudice, Mick with the alienation of youth. The threads of each character's development are woven into a tapestry depicting Southern society at the end of the Depression. Flashbacks are used to provide a sense of movement in time. These movements are almost always used to underline the character's connections with social difficulties, for example Jakes' background in the poverty of Gastonia, N.C., another mill-city. The central position of Singer never allows the personal sources of these problems to escape consideration.

Part Three demonstrates the reactions of the characters to the death of Singer and stresses through irony their inability to solve both personal and social problems. This part of the novel consists of four chapters, one each for Copeland, Blount, Mick, and Biff. The chapters also represent the four parts (Morning, Afternoon, Evening, Night) of one day, August 21, 1939. Part Two is patterned after the natural cycle of the year; in Part Three the smaller cycle of the day lends meaning to the action by emphasizing the end of summer, the decline of both men's fortunes and of the year. The microcosmic social world of the mill-city erupts in the unbridled hatred of a race riot, while the larger world, the macrocosm, teeters perilously on the brink of total war. In the conclusion of this section, humans plumb the nadir of their conditions. Mrs. McCullers had created a confused, brutal world, shown a momentary order in it, destroyed that order, yet in the very destruction, in the very moment of despair, shows us the foundation of a possible order in the tragic revelations of defeat. The four chapters are arranged to demonstrate this meaning; they move from the character with the least understanding and hope to the one with the most. Perhaps the personal and social disorder of the future can be avoided by an implementation of the knowledge produced by tragedy. The formal device which lends force to this apocalyptic vision is the reversal of the order of Chapters Two through Five of Part One: as the characters formed their connections with Singer, so are they disengaged.

The development is almost linear, with a few flashbacks used to fill in the historical bases of social problems and the corresponding connections of past with present in the lives of the characters. Although structurally simple, this method allows much complexity of development of themes and characters. The novel resembles classics of American realism like Winesburg, Ohio and The Grapes of Wrath in this basic structure.

The pattern of character relationships is much more complicated. The simple image of a circle or wheel (used in both the text of the novel and Mrs. Cullers' "Outline") seems to represent the relationship of the major characters to Singer. Shortly after Christmas they all visit him simultaneously, creating a scene which dramatizes the central pattern of the novel, a scene in which the characters move in a mime of their customary actions. Copeland stands in the doorway; Mick listens to music on the radio; Blount opens a bottle of beer; Biff smiles and observes. But there is no communication, and Singer is bewildered by their sudden silence. They regard each other suspiciously, exchange a few hostile questions, then generalize about the weather, and finally leave hurriedly. The few things they do say are directed at Singer rather than to each other. "Their thoughts seemed to converge in his as the spokes of a wheel lead to the center hub." But the mute realizes, at least unconsciously in a later dream, that the pattern resembles a pyramid:

Out of the blackness of sleep a dream formed. There were dull yellow lanterns lighting up a dark flight of stone steps. Antonapoulos kneeled at the top of these steps. He was naked and he fumbled with something that he held above his head and gazed at it as though in prayer. He himself knelt halfway down the steps. He was naked and cold and he could not take his eyes from Antonapoulos and the thing he held above him. Behind him on the ground he felt the one with the mustache and the girl and the black man and the last one. They knelt naked and he felt their eyes on him. And behind him there were uncounted crowds of kneeling people in the darkness. His own hands were huge windmills and he stared fascinated at the unknown thing that Antonapoulos held. The yellow lanterns swayed to and fro in the darkness and all else was motionless. Then suddenly there was a ferment. In the upheaval the steps collapsed and he felt himself falling downward. He awoke with a jerk. The early light whitened the window. He felt afraid.

Singer plays John the Baptist to Antonapoulos's Christ. Yet Antonapoulos looks upward also, at some unknown object which he holds above his head and regards with a prayerful attitude. This object is the cross which the Greek wears around his neck on a red ribbon. Later Singer is reminded of the dream when he sees the cross, the one thing that Antonapoulos treats with a veneration like that which he receives from Singer. The presence of the cross at the apex of this pyramid of stupid devotion indicates that religion has little relevance for modern society, a favorite theme in Proletarian fiction. The dream reveals the final emptiness inherent in the total situation, and the dream's collapse prefigures the destructive failure of everyone's dreams at the conclusion of the novel.

The most apt figure might be a three-dimensional rendering of the pyramidal image as a solar system in which there are a number of complementary orbits. Antonapoulos and his cross are at the exact center of the system. Singer is in orbit around him; the others revolve about Singer, and even they have their satellites in the minor characters who relate to them. The narrative relates the creation of this complex system and its disintegration. In a final sense the pattern of the action becomes cyclical: the characters move from disillusionment to hope to disillusionment, and, perhaps, to hope again. No matter what image is employed, it must be combined with the linear progression of time in the novel to demonstrate the connection of the personal and social worlds. In the timeless world of the heart the characters are involved in a complicated pattern; in the changing social world they are a part of inexorable historical movements. The whole novel exists as a complex figure of their combination.

Style functions organically with structure. A "legendary" style adds a timeless quality to Chapter One, helping to establish the archetypal nature of the events narrated. This style reoccurs in each of the key chapters concerned with Singer and Antonapoulos. The other chapters (2-5 of Part One; 1-6, 8-14 of Part Two; 1-4 of Part Three) employ styles related to the central personality of the chapter. Chapter Two of Part One for example, is centered about Biff Brannon, although other characters are introduced in it. The narration changes as the section opens; the "legendary" style ends, and a flat, objective, factual style begins, a style analogous to the character of Biff Brannon, the observer. Mrs. McCullers planned a different style for each of the main characters.

There are five different styles of writing—one for each of the main characters who is treated subjectively and an objective, legendary style for the mute. The object of each of these methods of writing is to come as close as possible to the inner psychic rhythms of the character from whose point of view it is written.

The legendary style of Chapter One, which has much of the "once-upon-a-time" quality of fable or romance, depicts human isolation and its causes on a generic level. Though succeeding chapters supply realistic details and anchor the story in an actual place and time, this opening section creates an aura of the timeless world of the imagination, the soul, the interior self. The world of the mutes remains separate from the town which surrounds them, for it is in actuality the changeless realm of the human heart. In telling the story of Singer and Antonapoulos, Mrs. McCullers essentially concerns herself with love, the universal search of the human heart for fulfillment. But soon a social background emerges from the shadows of the unconscious mind. At this point the reader becomes aware of the city, the social milieu in which Singer's search must be conducted.

The town was in the middle of the deep South. The summers were long and the months of winter cold were very few. Nearly always the sky was a glassy, brilliant azure and the sun burned down riotously bright. Then the light, chill rains of November would come, and perhaps later there would be frost and some short months of cold. The winters were changeable, but the summers always were burning hot. The town was a fairly large one. On the main street there were several blocks of two and three-story shops and business offices. But the largest buildings in the town were factories, which employed a large percentage of the population. These cotton mills were big and flourishing and most of the workers in the town were very poor. Often in the faces along the streets there was the desperate look of hunger and of loneliness.

In her outline of the novel, Mrs. McCullers locates the city on the ChattahoocheeRiver in western Georgia, in effect identifying it as her home town, Columbus. The city is a symbolic type of the culture produced by industrialization—a world of decay, deprivation, and loneliness. Blount's place of employment, the Sunny Dixie Show (the irony of the name is obvious), becomes the major example of setting used symbolically. A tawdry place of entertainment and escape appropriate to this world, the show is a combination of an urban wasteland and a mechanical nightmare.

The motionless wooden horses were fantastic in the later afternoon sun. They pranced up statically, pierced by their dull gilt bars. The horse nearest Jake had a splintery wooden crack in its dingy rump and the eyes walled blind and frantic, shreds of paint peeled from the sockets. The motionless merry-go-round seemed to Jake like something in a liquor dream.

The flying-jinny, or merry-go-round, symbolizes the meaningless and oppressive round of mechanical activities associated with modern urban civilization.

The city in the novel is not specifically identified; it might be any Southern mill-city and becomes representative of the industrialized and urbanized South, or America, or the whole modern world. It is still a realistic picture of a specific place, however, and a knowledge of the South and its history adds to the appreciation of the narrative. The description of the city emphasizes its social problems, and the choice of characters allows the narrative to develop them at some length. Jake Blount, for example, observes the results of economic exploitation in the section of mill houses.

On either side there were rows of dilapidated two room houses. In the cramped back yards were rotted privies and lines of torn, smoky rags hung out to dry. For two miles there was not one sight of comfort or space or cleanliness. Even the earth itself seemed filthy and abandoned. Now and then there were signs that a vegetable row had been attempted but only a few withered collards had survived. And a few fruitless, smutty fig tress. Little younguns swarmed in this filth, the smaller of them stark naked. The sight of this poverty was so cruel and hopeless that Jake snarled and clenched his fists.

Here is the ruined garden of the new industrial world, an environment in which man finds the expression of his essential human nature extremely difficult. Cut off from a sense of community, each individual enters a dangerous inner world of dreams where he is existentially alone.

Each character isolates himself in this way; the repetition of the pattern emphasizes its generic nature. Singer presents the pattern because his communication difficulties constitute the most obvious symbols of modern alienation. The other major characters serve to connect the pattern to the society of the mill-city and to the larger world outside.

Even the minor characters demonstrate the same purpose. Harry Minowitz, for example, represents the novel's pervasive social concerns. Harry's Jewish background amplifies both the religious and social themes of the novel. His presence also raises the issue of Fascism, bringing the macrocosm of the world situation of 1939 into focus with the microcosm of the mill-city. Mrs. McCullers once commented that Heart is "an ironic parable of fascism," a statement which has caused critics much puzzlement. The novelist undoubtedly uses both terms in a very broad sense, meaning by the second any social system which bases its order on hatred, aggression, and human exploitation. These are the bases of the social structure in Nazi Germany and in the mill-city, and thus the "parable" is ironic. Facism in this sense can be present in any social organization because its seeds—hate, greed, and fear—are constants of the human situation. Harry himself demonstrates these characteristics. His adolescent fear of isolation made him sympathetic with Fascism.

'I used to be a Fascist. I used to think I was. It was this way. You know all the pictures of the people our age in Europe marching and singing songs and keeping step together. I used to think that was wonderful. All of them pledged to each other and with one leader. All of them with the same ideals and marching in step together.'

Harry's reaction to Fascist anti-semitism creates a personal chaos. His very hatred of Hitler causes him to desire to live within a militaristic society which would fight Nazism. His own physical desires lead him into the sexual exploitation of the younger Mick. Of course, all of the characters and events of the novel are part of this presentation of man's world, but Harry provides the key to the equating of mill-city with a world on the eve of war. In Harry's Jewishness Mrs. McCullers universalizes her picture of human failure through the interpenetration of all these worlds.

Careful analysis of its structure demonstrates how all elements of the novel—character, plot, style, setting, and symbol—are integrated in the larger purpose of presenting the failure of communication, the isolation, and the violence prevalent in modern society. The novel's characters demonstrate the roots of these general conditions in the nature of the individual personality. Each person is freakishly incomplete, selfish, uncommunicative (Mrs. McCullers' originaltitle, "The Mute", might have been intended as a plural form), immature, sexually frustrated, and essentially alienated from their society. The symbolization of these difficulties on a personal level often approaches the Gothic—for example, the freak as Everyman. However, a concurrent emphasis is placed on the accurate social depiction of these characters. No communication can exist when each person creates only a self-centered and self-deluded view of the world around him. But a society composed of such individual parts will drive man further into himself. Bound in the prison of his isolation and tortured by the pains and shocks of life, man attempts to escape from this condition into an imagined world of perfect fulfillment. This search for personal realization must necessarily be social because he must communicate with and love other human beings. Man's social world is imperfect because of personal failings, and his personal existence is painful because of the tension between self and an imperfect society.

In Carson McCullers' The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, this paradoxical condition is explored through the symbols provided by a particular society—a small mill-city in the American South immediately before World War II. A knowledge of its social setting is helpful in understanding the novel's psychology, but the book also explains particular historical situations and events as manifestations of universal human conditions. The novel's analogues in Southern fiction are readily apparent: the alienated characters of Wolfe, the disintegrating families of Faulkner, the corrupt social and political order of Warren. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter stands as an impressive achievement, particularly for a young writer. It provides a critical perspective for viewing Mrs. McCullers' other works, and perhaps for the whole expanse of modern Southern fiction.

Virginia Spencer Carr (essay date 1990)

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SOURCE: "The Ballad of the Sad Café," in Understanding Carson McCullers, University of South Carolina Press, 1990, pp. 53-69.

[In the following essay, Carr discusses events in McCullers' personal life that were incorporated into The Ballad of the Sad Café. The love-triangle between the characters of Amelia Evans, the hunchback Lymon, and Macy grew out of relationships in McCullers's life, according to Carr.]

The monotony and boredom that permeated the author's life with her husband in 1939 before their move from Fayetteville, North Carolina, contributed not only to the completion of Reflections in a Golden Eye, but also to her novella, The Ballad of the Sad Café, published for the first time in 1943 in a single issue of Harper's Bazaar. More important to the story line of the tale than McCullers's southern discomfort, however, was her predicament in New York in 1940 and 1941. She had hoped for a committed relationship with her new friend Annemarie Clarac-Schwarzenbach, having fallen deeply in love with her, but it became apparent to McCullers soon after their involvement that nothing further would develop.

To suffer in despair was her destiny as a mortal, she reasoned, turning once more to fiction to express what she saw as her truths. Although McCullers had been working for many months on a manuscript that she referred to as "The Bride and Her Brother," its design and technique had not yet revealed themselves to her (a metaphysical experience McCullers described later as "the grace of labor"). She realized while in the nurturing environment of her native Columbus that she could put off no longer the strange tale of thwarted love that had grown out of her tangled relationships with her husband and her Swiss friend. That winter she wrote her editor (Robert Linscott) that passion and tension in her life were necessary if she were to write at all, but that she needed it in smaller doses. With her husband, there had been too much tension, and passion had been replaced by disillusionment, ennui, and disgust. But now, removed physically from the two people with whom she had been most deeply involved, she found herself writing well once more. Her new tale was better than anything else she had done, she reported.

McCullers told a number of friends while she was at work on her "folk tale" during the summer of 1941 at Yaddo Artists Colony that she had written the "music" for it years earlier as a result of her experiences with people she loved. Her lyrics, however, were more recently inspired. In the first week of her stay at Yaddo, she became enamored of Katherine Anne Porter, a fellow guest and the reputed grande dame of the colony, a crush that added still another dimension to her tale. According to Porter, McCullers lost no time in making her infatuation known and followed her about the colony in the very manner in which the characters she was creating moon over one another in The Ballad of the Sad Café.

Although the pivotal character in the tale that McCullers was writing bears a resemblance to any number of individuals in her life (and even, to some extent, to the author herself), Cousin Lymon owes his creation, in part, to an actual hunchback whom McCullers saw in a Sand Street bar that she frequented in Brooklyn Heights when she lived at 7 Middagh Street, near the old Brooklyn Naval Yard. In her essay "Brooklyn Is My Neighborhood," McCullers described him as "a little hunchback who struts in proudly every evening, and is petted by everyone, given free drinks, and treated as a sort of mascot by the proprietor." But even more relevant to his development as a character was McCullers's wry humor and sheer delight in reading and hearing recounted tales of folk epic and classical mythology, as well as of bizarre situations found within her contemporary world. Mary A. Gervin has written convincingly of certain "frames of reference" and mythic parallels between Amelia/Macy and Artemis/Orion.

Still another situation in McCullers's life found its way into her tale that summer, too: her abandonment by Reeves and his love affair with their best friend, David Diamond. McCullers wrote Diamond from Yaddo when she finished her "strange fairy tale," as she repeatedly described it, that it was for him. (Diamond, in turn, dedicated his ballet The Dream of Audubon to both McCullers and Reeves and set to music her recently published poem, "The Twisted Trinity," yet another handling of her troubled life.) In the fictional tale, Amelia is abandoned by Cousin Lymon—whom she loves inordinately—in favor of Marvin Macy. The two men team up against her, steal her treasures, wreck her café and distillery, and leave town together.

Critic Margaret Walsh has argued cogently that The Ballad Of the Sad Café is not a "fairy tale" but an "anti-fairy tale," for "unlike the redeeming love of fairy tales, love in McCullers's tale is the spell that weakens the will, the enchantment that can dwarf giants"; thus to "lay oneself bare to love is to be open to disloyalty, to be meek, powerless, and defenseless, to be at the mercy of love's unpredictability."

The twisted, ill-fated triangles that haunt the lives of McCullers's fictional characters repeatedly haunted the author in reality as well. The theme of abandonment (that had prevailed in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter) is important not only to The Ballad of the Sad Café, but even more so to the longer work in progress that summer, the novel that eventually became The Member of the Wedding. McCullers finished her novella at Yaddo during the summer of 1941, then put it away for two years, intending to write two more tales of about the same length and to publish them as a trilogy in one volume. Caught up in the writing of The Member of the Wedding, however, she never worked on the other tales she envisioned, and The Ballad of the Sad Café was published in 1943 in a single issue of Harper's Bazaar. Eight years later, it became the title story in her omnibus collection, The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Works, which included all of the long fiction published to date and six of her short stories.

The narrator of McCullers's novella maintains a relatively objective distance from the scene and situation that he (or she) describes in much the same manner as the narrator does in Reflections in a Golden Eye. He is not a specific character within any scene, but his commentary and subtle forewarnings function like a Greek chorus. He sees the dangers inherent in the triangle of Amelia, Lymon, and Macy, but is powerless to act. He does not pretend to know everything, but his omniscient voice sets the mood and pace of the action to follow, shifting from formal, stylized, poetic, and at times archaic, to the colorful and colloquial folk patterns of the simple mill people who frequent Miss Amelia's café.

Over the years McCullers's narrator has evoked more critical discussion than has any other aspect of the tale. Robert Rechnitz argued cogently in 1968 that the author's "childlike style" served her especially well in The Ballad of the Sad Café, for it enabled the narrator to hide behind a facade of childlike innocence that became a "kind of buffer to fend off what would otherwise be unbearable." A later essay, Dawson F. Gaillard's "The Presence of the Narrator in McCullers' Ballad of the Sad Café," posits that the empathetic presence of the narrator makes it impossible for the reader "to distance himself from the emotional impact of the act," and that it is the oral quality of the tale and the personal balladeer's response to the café that lifts the café to mythic proportions. Critics have generally agreed that the narrator's most striking characteristic is his (or her) compassion for the three principal characters, whose traits are employed by McCullers as symbols of the moral isolation and pain to which one inevitably falls heir in the absence of any kind of meaningful communication with another human being.

Told as one long flashback, the story actually begins at the end. Unlike her first two books with their three- and four-part divisions, The Ballad of the Sad Café is tightly compressed into one continuous narrative that relies upon narration alone and an occasional space break to emphasize passage of time or an extraordinary turn of events.

When the reader first encounters Amelia Evans, by far the most pitiful and tragic figure in the tale, she is living alone behind boarded-up windows in a large, sagging house on the main street of a small town in what appears to be the hills of North Georgia. It is August, and "sometimes in the late afternoon when the heat is at its worst a hand will slowly open the shutter and a face will look down on the town. It is a face like the terrible dim faces known in dreams—sexless and white." The solitary Miss Amelia is a freakishly tall, pale woman whose "two gray crossed eyes" are turned so sharply inward that they seem to be exchanging with each other "one long and secret gaze of grief." Amelia is six feet two inches tall and has bones and muscles like a man's. She cares "nothing for the love of men," although she identifies with them in her labors of sausage making, bricklaying, and carpentry. The town's only general practitioner, she doles out her homemade medicines, but is uncomfortable with women and refuses to treat any "female complaint." Like Private Williams in Reflections in a Golden Eye, Amelia was reared in a motherless home. She had no idea what might be expected of her in a romantic relationship and had no basis for remorse over her violent expulsion of Marvin Macy from the bridal bedchamber or of her abuse of him later. When Amelia, in turn, is abandoned by Lymon, she evokes the towns-people's pity.

The town itself is dreary and undistinguished, for "not much is there except the cotton mill, the two-room houses where the workers live, a few peach trees, a church with two colored windows, and a miserable main street only a hundred yards long. On Saturdays the tenants from the nearby farms come in for a day of talk and trade. Otherwise the town is lonesome, sad, and like a place that is far off and estranged from all other places in the world." Nature imposes itself upon the hapless people with short, raw winters and summers that are "white with glare and fiery hot." In such a godforsaken place, the "soul rots with boredom," and one's only relief, suggests the balladeer, is "to walk down the Forks Falls Road and listen to the chain gang."

In the process of telling his tale, the narrator overcomes his boredom and, as critic John McNally has carefully demonstrated, adds a meaningful dimension to his own banal existence. But the town was once quite different, and so was Amelia, insists the narrator. In addition to having been the richest woman in town, she also ran the only local general store and made the best liquor in the county from an illegal still deep in the nearby swamp. Obviously displeased over the state of affairs in the community, she was ill at ease with the rest of the townspeople because they could not "be taken into the hands and changed overnight to something more worthwhile and profitable." Amelia's indifference to others was seen most clearly in her strange, ten-day unconsummated marriage to Macy, whom she drove out of her house—and out of town—after getting him to turn over all of his worldly possessions to her. Macy's humiliation by Amelia caused him to revert fiercely to his old, cruel habits that had shocked the town and gained him notoriety throughout the state. Captured, finally, he was charged for murder and any number of shotgun robberies and sent off to the penitentiary outside of Atlanta.

The narrator explains that some eleven years have passed since that event, however, and that Miss Amelia's independence and meanspiritedness are legendary. Thus the townspeople are amazed beyond belief when a tubercular and repulsive-looking hunchback struts into town one day and claims distant kinship with her. She calls him Cousin Lymon, and overnight he becomes the focus of her world. Lymon looks like a sick pelican with his thin crooked legs, oversized head, and great warped chest, and he is described repeatedly through distasteful bird imagery. For the first time in Amelia's life she feels pity, moved first by his tears, then by love—a love that she offers freely, having intuited that the little hunchback is no threat to her sexuality. Critic Joseph R. Millichap has aptly described Lymon as "a man loved without sex, a child acquired without pain, and a companion" whom Amelia found "more acceptable than a husband or a child."

In one of the most frequently quoted passages from McCullers' sentire canon, the narrator addresses mankind (and womankind) in general regarding the nature of the lover and the beloved:

First of all, love is a joint experience between two persons—but the fact that it is a joint experience does not mean that it is a similar experience to the two people involved. There are the lover and the beloved, but these two come from different countries. Often the beloved is only a stimulus for all the stored-up love which has lain quiet within the lover for a long time hitherto. And somehow every lover knows this. He feels in his soul that his love is a solitary thing. He comes to know a new, strange loneliness and it is this knowledge which makes him suffer. So there is only one thing for the lover to do. He must house his love within himself as best he can; he must create for himself a whole new inward world—a world intense and strange, complete in himself.

McCuller's balladeer makes it clear that the lover can be "any human creature on this earth," and that "the most outlandish people can be the stimulus for love":

A most mediocre person can be the object of a love which is wild, extravagant, and beautiful as the poison lilies of the swamp. A good man may be the stimulus for a love both violent and debased, or a jabbering madman may bring about in the soul of someone a tender and simple idyll. Therefore, the value and quality of any love is determined solely by the lover himself. It is for this reason that most of us would rather love than be loved. Almost everyone wants to be the lover. And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being beloved is intolerable to many. The beloved fears and hates the lover, and with the best of reasons. For the lover is forever trying to strip bare his beloved. The lover craves any possible relation with the beloved, even if this experience can cause him only pain.

When The Ballad of the Sad Café first appeared in Harper's Bazaar, McCullers sent a copy of the magazine to a young army private she had recently met, Robert Walden, and in the margin beside her treatise on the failure of eros, she scribbled in pencil: "This is true, Bob, only when you are not in love." Later, McCullers insisted in her essay "The Flowering Dream: Notes on Writing" that the "passionate, individual love—the old Tristan-Isolde love, the Eros love—is inferior to the love of God, to fellowship, to the love of Agape—the Greek god of the feast, the God of brotherly love—and of man. This is what I tried to show in The Ballad of the Sad Café in the strange love of Miss Amelia for the little hunchback, Cousin Lymon." Whereas McCullers does reveal the eventual failure of eros and its destructive powers upon the trio in her tale, the characters achieve no redemption through agape (in the sense of communal affection), except for the temporal relief afforded by the café.

One could argue that McCullers's claim regarding her intentions in a work written fifteen years earlier when her emotions were deeply involved in the fiction is not wholly true. Louise Westling has pointed out that McCullers's statement that The Ballad of the Sad Café was intended to show the inferiority of passionate individual love to agape" by no means accounted "for the individual peculiarities of her characters and the sexual dimensions of their problems in love." Just as McCullers herself had experienced abject grief upon her painful discovery of the transitory nature of love and the impossibility of a lasting relationship with her Swiss friend, so, too, does Amelia suffer profoundly through her extraordinary love for Lymon, and for the café itself.

Six years after Lymon became ensconced in the café, Marvin Macy returns to town bent on revenge. The two men stare at one another with "the look of two criminals who recognize each other," and Lymon becomes instantly transformed into a spirited lover. He performs every trick he knows to get Macy's attention, while Macy, in turn, alternately ignores and insults his suitor. The strange triangle takes its final turn when Amelia is reduced to accepting the role of the frustrated lover, and this time it is Lymon who cruelly spurns her, choosing instead the swaggering, revengeful husband who puts up with the hunchback merely to gain an ally against his wife. Lymon flirts shamelessly with Macy, apes and insults the grieving Amelia to her face, and invites her husband to move in with them. Amelia does not rebel, knowing that if she drives her rival away, Lymon will follow. The thought of being alone again, having abandoned the last vestige of her strident independence to the dwarf, is intolerable. The narrator intercedes at this point to declare that "it is better to take in your mortal enemy than face the terror of living alone." Amelia's futile efforts to regain Lymon's favor parallel Macy's former attempts to woo her. Until he courted Amelia and was mysteriously transfigured by love, Macy's meanness was legendary throughout the region.

A bitter confrontation between Amelia and Macy is inevitable, an event that McCullers describes in mock-heroic fashion. The couple square off one evening in the center of the café before all the townspeople, who have watched the trio fearfully since the day Macy arrived. It is the dead of winter after an extraordinary snow, and there have been countless strange interruptions to nature's rhythms that the townspeople attribute to Macy. Along with other ominous signs a few hours before the fight begins, "a hawk with a bloody breast" flies over the town and circles "twice around the property of Miss Amelia." Thirty minutes after the fight commences, Amelia's advantage is unmistakable. She pins Macy to the floor and straddles him, her strong, big hands at his throat, but the hunchback intervenes. From the counter twelve feet away where he has perched to watch the fight, Lymon sails through the air "as though he had grown hawk wings," lands upon Amelia's back, and claws furiously at her neck. When the townsfolk come to their senses, Amelia lies motionless on the floor. The narrator explains that "this was not a fight to hash over and talk about afterward; people went home and pulled the covers up over their heads."

Amelia's pathetic defeat echoes the scene at the close of Reflections in a Golden Eye, but Amelia is not afforded the release of death. Trapped in the abyss of loneliness and isolation, she sobs fitfully "with the last of her grating, winded breath," her head in the crook of her arm. The destruction of her café and still, the theft of her worldly possessions, the sausage and grits laced with poison left behind—all mean nothing compared to the physical and spiritual decay that sets in irrevocably with the hunchback's sweeping leap. A victim of complete abandonment, the pathetic woman sits every night for three years on the front steps of her sagging house and gazes forlornly down the road upon which Lymon had first appeared. At last, in an admission of defeat, Amelia lets her hair grow ragged, and day by day her gray eyes become more crossed, "as though they sought each other out to exchange a little glance of grief and lonely recognition." Finally, she hires a carpenter to board up the premises of the café, and there is, as a result, no good liquor to be had anywhere. It is rumored that those who drink from the still eight miles away will "grow warts on their livers the size of goobers" and "dream themselves into a dangerous inward world." The rest of the townsfolk, in their boredom, have little to do except "walk around the millpond, stand kicking at a rotten stump, figure out what [one] can do with the old wagon wheel by the side of the road near the church," and as a last resort, "go down to the Forks Falls highway and listen to the chain gang." But Amelia allows herself no such relief. She does not go to the highway like the others to seek solace in the voices of the chain gang. Yet McCullers's coda, "The Twelve Mortal Men," stands as a paean to survival and a moving illustration of the power of brotherhood, even when the union is brought on by chains of bondage.

For a recording made in 1958—seventeen years after writing The Ballad of the Sad Café—McCullers read the final passage of the novel, the coda of the chain gang. Although her spirits were low and her health wretched, McCullers's voice was steady and strong until she reached the final line. "Just twelve mortal men who are together," wept McCullers, her breaking voice a vital part of the recording. In her canon, the word just had a special connotation that heightened its irony. "Just is too small a word for pity," explained Mollie Lovejoy, a character she had created some fifteen years after The Ballad of the Sad Café. "It's like saying just food, just God."

The Ballad of the Sad Café provoked no serious attention from reviewers until its appearance in the 1951 omnibus edition. In a front-page review in the Sunday New York Herald Tribune, Coleman Rosenberger declared the title story "condensed and brilliant writing, which carries the reader along so easily on the waves of the story that he may not at first be aware how completely he has been saturated with symbolism." William P. Clancey, reviewing for Commonweal, called McCullers's work "metaphysical" and spoke admiringly of the "metaphysical fusion of horror and compassion" by the author whose "young American talent" was of the "very first order." Robert Kee informed readers of the British Spectator that McCullers's style had an "Olympian dispassionateness which is designed to strengthen the violence of the human emotions with which she is often concerned. It is the same sort of effect which Hardy achieved for his characters in far more clumsily contrived sentences." V.S. Pritchett insisted that McCullers was the "most remarkable novelist to come out of America for a generation" and declared that her compassion gives her characters "a Homeric moment in a universal tragedy."

In his notable argument, "The Myth of the Sad Café," Albert J. Griffith contrasted McCullers's impressive mythic imagination with that of such moderns as James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and John Updike, stressing that her fellow writers had created contemporary parallels to various well-known myths, whereas McCullers shaped "her own new myth out of primitive elements."

A strong body of feminist criticism of The Ballad of the Sad Café, as well as of McCullers's other works, emerged in the mid-1970s. Panthea Reid Broughton provided the first significant feminist reading, which viewed the tale as a fable that "shows us that rejecting those characters labeled as exclusively feminine bounces back on the rejecter and renders men and women alike incapable of love." Charlene Clark's study of "male-female pairs" in both The Ballad of the Sad Café and The Member of the Wedding demonstrates effectively how McCullers's aggressive females dominate the passive males with whom they are paired and that these women vent their aggression through violence as a means of dominating the men. Another notable feminist reading is Claire Kahane's "Gothic Mirrors and Feminine Identity," which treats The Ballad of the Sad Café as a "redefined modern Gothic fiction" and places McCullers closer to Flannery O'Connor than to any of her other contemporaries. Both Robert S. Phillips and Louise Westling have addressed Isak Dinesen's considerable influence through her tale "The Monkey" upon The Ballad of the Sad Café. Westling perceives a significant difference between the work of the two writers, noting McCullers's attempt to deny the feminine entirely and to allow a woman to function successfully as a man.

The Ballad of the Sad Café has continued to stand up well under the scrutiny of critics. Many contend that, all things considered, it is still her best work.

Emily Miller Budick (essay date 1994)

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SOURCE: "The Mother Tongue," in Engendering Romance: Women Writers and the Hawthorne Tradition, 1850–1990. Yale University Press, 1994, pp. 143-61.

[In the following essay Budick discusses how different characters in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter strive to develop both verbal and sexual intercourse with others.]

Like her predecessors in the romance tradition, Carson McCullers, in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, renders a portrait of reality more suggestive than mimetic. As with The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables (and the tradition of sentimental fiction to which these texts are related), its subject is the truth of the human heart, and its fundamental message has to do with what the text specifies as "one word—love." At the end of Wharton's House of Mirth, Lily is trying to remember this single word, and Selden in on his way to Lily to say it. The word is never stated in Wharton's novel, but it is spoken in McCullers's. A central concern in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (as in the Letter) is what it means to risk speaking the word love, which is to say what it means to risk not speaking it. Through her female protagonists Mick Kelly and Portia—and through the bisexual Biff Brannon—McCullers discovers a language of the heart that, like Faulkner's antiphallocentric discourse, transcends the limitations of symbolic, representational, ideological discourse. But because she is as much invested in the word love as in love itself, her text does not, like the sentimental novels of the nineteenth century, dissolve into pure emotionality, beyond language; nor does it, like Faulkner's fiction, resist the material, maternal, symbolic universe.

Stanley Cavell has written of the reader-writer relationship that "the reader's position [is] that of the stranger. To write to him is to acknowledge that he is outside the words, at a bent arm's length, and alone with the book; that his presence to these words is perfectly contingent, and the choice to stay with them continuously his own; that they are his points of departure and origin. The conditions of meeting upon the word are that we—writer and reader—learn how to depart from them, leave them where they are; and then return to them, finding ourselves there again." In McCullers's novel, speaking requires the same autonomy of speaker and listener, the same necessity for what Cavell elsewhere imagines as letting words go and finding them again. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter has to do with the requirements of both verbal and sexual intercourse, as well as with taking responsibility for what such intercourse produces.

In The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter four lonely characters seek to escape isolation and open intercourse with the world through their conversation with a deaf person who cannot hear them and refuses to speak to them. This pattern of nonconversation, in which the individual chooses as the recipient of communication a person who cannot or will not respond, is poignantly reinforced by John Singer's own choice of dialogic partner: the deaf and dumb, mentally retarded Spiros Antonapoulos. There is no mistaking McCullers's sympathy for her isolated individuals—no ignoring, either, the complaint about lonely hearts who ruthlessly hunt companionship, only to use the other as a sounding board for the self. As if anticipating the poststructuralist accusation against new formalist criticism—that it reads out texts as mirrors of the designs that the reader places on them—the characters of McCullers's novel seem to speak only to hear their own voices. They convert each other into self-reflections, allegorical mirrors of the self, which permit them to engage in endlessly self-referential monologues. "Each man described the mute as he wished him to be" writes McCullers. The monologic structure of Faulkner's Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying stands close behind McCullers's montage of voices, in which the many consciousnesses in the book remain painfully stranded outside the community of human exchange.

Causing this failure to establish intercourse is the individuals' self-absorption, which prompts them to choose as the object of their communication someone who cannot or will not hear or respond. McCullers suggests, however, that the silent listener is as much victimizer as victim. The silent Singer seduces the other characters into choosing him as their listener, their god. From the beginning of the book McCullers leaves us in no doubt that Singer chooses to remain voiceless; he is not innately mute. Might we not think of Singer—who, when he does communicate, does so through written words, engraved symbols, and signs—as being like a text, which, in its unresponsive, nonconversational mode of transcription, leaves the interpreter free to imagine everything and anything? The problem that Singer, both as character and as text, raises is, What does it mean not to say or not to say clearly? What are the consequences to others of a refusal to enter into the two-way process of conversation? What does it mean in a human relationship to be made the interpreter of a static, silent object (person or text) as opposed to a partner in the mutual (and mutually responsible) production of meaning?

For McCullers the alternative to the silent text is not political discourse. The book explicitly rejects the language employed by Benedict Mady Copeland, the black doctor and activist, and Jake Blount, the radical labor organizer. "Talk—talk—talk" is the way Biff describes Blount. Like the other major figures in the story, Blount, according to Singer, is "always talking." Nor is this talk—talk—talk idle or innocent. It is focused obsessively on the idea of an exclusive unitary "truth"—a "true purpose" in the case of Copeland—which the individual is convinced he or she can articulate. Like Anderson's greedy grotesques (and Flannery O'Connor's), Carson McCullers's "freaks" want to possess the beautiful, multiple truths of the world. In possessing them, they distort the truths and themselves alike. They render the truth false and themselves grotesque. The consequences of this obsession with truth and with the ideological speech through which one imagines one can express truth are devastating, as in Winesburg, Ohio, both for family and for community. Copeland loses his wife and alienates his children, while Blount roams aimlessly throughout the country, (not) husband and (not) father (to formulate the problem in the terms of another of McCullers's important precursors, William Faulkner).

The painfulness of conversation turned ideological argument is stunningly portrayed in the quarrel between Blount and Copeland, which occurs toward the end of the novel. The confrontation—not unlike that in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (published a few years later)—is between an American white political activist and an American black. It exposes the limitations of white political thought about African Americans along the lines of Ellison's and Richard Wright's conclusions concerning the exploitation of the race problem by the Communist party. The conversation begins as a discussion between two like-minded and socially engaged individuals but quickly degenerates into childish accusations and name-calling: "Oh, the Hell with it!… Balls!" "Blasphemer!… Foul blasphemer!" "Short-sighted bigot!" "White … Fiend!" By the end of the novel, Blount, beaten down and running for his life, realizes that what separates him from Copeland is only words. "On some points they might be able to work together … if they didn't talk too much." As in Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter, ideological discourse replicates the problem of the silent text: it repels and attracts, in effect silencing itself, regardless of all its apparent wordiness and noise. Sitting in the presence of his family, Copeland finally falls "dumb": "If he could not speak the whole long truth no other word would come to him," not even the word "farewell" as he leaves the family gathering and goes out the door. By the time Blount reaches Copeland, it is too late for both of them.

For all her concern with issues of sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, and economic exploitation, McCullers, like her predecessors in the romance tradition, refuses to write a directly political text. Copeland and Blount are both given their say in this book. But for McCullers morality is more a way of seeing the world than a set of political objectives. For this reason, perhaps, she has Copeland articulate a political philosophy that directly misstates the romance politics of Thoreau and Emerson. "If I could just find ten Negroes," he says to Portia, "—ten of my own people—with spine and brains and courage … only four Negroes." Here is the text from Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" (itself a gloss on an Old Testament passage) that Copeland misunderstands: "I know this well, that if one thousand, if one hundred, if ten men whom I could name—if ten honest men only—ay, if one HONEST man, in this State of Massachusetts, ceasing to hold slaves, were actually to withdraw from this copartnership, and be locked up in the county jail therefore, it would be the abolition of slavery in America." The difference between Copeland's formulation and Thoreau's is that Copeland has bred, raised, and groomed (even named) four specific individuals (his own children) for this particular task of saving the black people, whereas Thoreau has no one man in particular but any man, and therefore potentially every man, coming to this moral perception on his own. Thoreau's idea carries forward the biblical idea that it inherits. When Abraham pleads for Sodom on the basis of the ten honest men, he has no ten in particular in mind but any and therefore potentially all who might exist within the city. Portia's response to her father that "Willie and Highboy and me have backbone. This here is a hard world and it seem to me us three struggles along pretty well" understands what Thoreau understands: that moral courage is not political and public so much as individual and private.

But if McCullers sides with Emerson and Thoreau against Copeland and Blount, she does so fully aware of the dangers of Emerson's and Thoreau's way of turning aside from direct confrontation with sociopolitical issues. McCullers is tortured by the possibility that writers, artists, and musicians, in avoiding politics, do little to correct either social problems or the problem of ideology itself. The language of the writer, she realizes, may even intensify tendencies in language to express human egocentricity, producing a text that becomes everyone else's mirror of self. Not surprisingly, this self is also an embodiment of a transcendent perfection. Singer's dream midway through the novel, which foreshadows the painful denouement of the book, is a virtual diagram of a hierarchical transcendentalization of reality. The pyramid of world order, in which the self celebrates itself, depends on the silence of the god or text or idea at the pinnacle—a silence that allows the self to endow itself with divine qualities.

Out of the blackness of sleep a dream formed. There were dull yellow lanterns lighting up a dark flight of stone steps. Antonapoulos kneeled at the top of these steps. He was naked and he fumbled with something that he held above his head and gazed at it as though in prayer. He himself knelt half-way down the steps. He was naked and cold and he could not take his eyes from Antonapoulos and the thing he held above him. Behind him on the ground he felt the one with the moustache and the girl and the black man and the last one. They knelt naked and he felt their eyes on him. And behind them there were uncounted crowds of kneeling people in the darkness. His own hands were huge windmills and he stared fascinated at the unknown thing that Antonapoulos held. The yellow lanterns swayed to and fro in the darkness and all else was motionless. Then suddenly there was a ferment. In the upheaval the steps collapsed and he felt himself falling downwards. He awoke with a jerk. The early light whitened the window. He felt afraid.

The central figure in the scene is the something, the thing, the unknown thing, that Antonapoulos holds in his hands. Singer refuses to identify it, even though it is as naked and in view as the crowds of kneeling people who compose the scene. Nor will Singer—his hands like windmills incapable of signing and therefore incapable of speech—name the one with the moustache and the girl and the black man and the last one or count the uncounted but not countless crowds. There are two ways of understanding Singer's unwillingness, or inability, to articulate what is represented in his dream. Insofar as the thing represents something mysterious, not easily given over to a name, his silence can be understood as an appropriate restraint from the excesses of verbalization. Certain details—the cathedral-like setting of the dream, with all of the characters kneeling, and that the one object Antonapoulos possesses is a crucifix and that in the very next scene he is represented as majestic and godlike—suggest that the thing is a cross. What is a cross, the text implies, to be so lightly named? What does the name tell us about what a crucifix is or means? Singer's silence, then, might seem a prudent response to the dangers of mindless talk—talk—talk.

But the interpretation is not so simple. Although one of the few ways in which Antonapoulos uses his hands is to sign the words "'Holy Jesus,' or 'God,' or 'Darling Mary,'" another is to indulge in his "solitary secret pleasure," masturbation. Awaking with a jerk, Singer might well feel afraid of what he has witnessed in his dream of raw and naked desire. He may have very good reasons for refusing to say what thing he has seen.

Is the thing a cross—or a penis? Does it stand for the divine or the purely human? the purely human as divine? McCullers's text owes something here to Melville's Moby Dick. Like the great white whale for Ahab, the thing (whatever it is) is, for Singer, a transcendent object of worship. Deification of the unknown and mysterious thing (which may be no more than a figure for one's own sexual desire) extends down through the pyramid of worshipers. For Singer, Antonapoulos is God. Singer himself is God for Biff, Blount, Copeland, and Mick. McCullers's text illuminates a tendency within human beings to construct a universe of divine meanings, in which discovering the divine in someone or something else is both a cover for confronting the physical and the sexual within oneself and a way of converting the merely biological and human into the transcendent and spiritual. But insofar as the author refuses to write what the thing in Antonapoulos's hand is, she conspires in this process of deification. She makes the text into the seductive god who commands the worship of the reader.

The failure to specify what the thing is mimetically reproduces the silence of dreams: the text replicates an aspect of the everyday experience of the world in which language-as-clarification is naturally withheld. Dreams do not represent reality in a transparent symbolic script. As often as not, they withhold the terms of identification through which the dreamer might interpret the dream. One might say that Singer never achieves self-knowledge of his tragic attachment to Antonapoulos because he is a poor interpreter of dreams. But he is a poor interpreter of dreams (that is, of himself) because dreams do not say what they mean. They are dreams and they exist because they say without saying. Dreams are an expression of human resistance to self-clarification. They remind us that there are things we simply do not want to know about ourselves. And there are things that we do not want others to know about us. In many ways, Singer, who speaks with silent signs and symbols, embodies the language of dreams. By speaking with and to him, Mick, Biff, Blount, and Copeland confront a dreamlike language that they can choose not to understand.

But Singer does not refuse the role that he plays for the other characters. Like a god, Singer speaks in the language of dreams—through signs and symbols; he speaks in silence, and he speaks in order not to be understood. McCullers's text, like perhaps all literary texts, similarly threatens self-deification and mystification. But the consequences of leaving the world uninterpreted, the text makes clear, are terrifying. Naked and cold and gradually metamorphosing into a monster with windmills for hands, Singer is understandably frightened by his dream. Later, when Antonapoulos's fumbling for his cross makes Singer recall the dream and he tries and once again cannot sign the dream, Singer falls prey to impulses that he can neither understand nor control. Singer cannot convert the dream into speech. As the bitter climax of the novel approaches, Singer "surrender[s] himself wholly to thoughts of his friend…. Behind each waking moment there had always been his friend. And this submerged communion with Antonapoulos had grown and changed as though they were together in the flesh. Sometimes he thought of Antonapoulos with awe and self-abasement, sometimes with pride—always with love unchecked by criticism, freed of will. When he dreamed at night the face of his friend was always before him, massive and wise and gentle. And in his waking thoughts they were eternally united." The failure to interpret is a fantasy of union, in which self and other respect no distance and exist outside the differentiations and disintegrations of language. Its consequence is the collapse into nothingness that the fiction of Edgar Allan Poe vividly records.

Singer's suicide is one of many figures in the book for the identification of unity with death. To achieve total union with the other is to kill off the other. No sooner has the author articulated Singer's feelings of oneness with Antonapoulos than we discover that Antonapoulos is dead. In this book even thinking about unity can be murderous. And this brings the text to another aspect of totalizing desire: to achieve union with the other and hence with oneself is to destroy the other and oneself. With the death of Antonapoulos, Singer commits suicide, and with Singer's suicide the whole chain of human community breaks apart: Blount is routed out of town after the murderous riot at the fair; Copeland, sick and defeated, is taken to the farm of his father-in-law to die; Mick takes a job at Woolworth's, which puts to an end her artistic ambitions; and Biff is left alone tending the shop. Were it not for a certain prospect for the future that the author deftly constructs (to which I shall return in a moment), the novel would end, as do the fictions of Faulkner and Anderson, Melville and Poe, with a sterility and deathliness, signaling the end of family, community, and history—the end of literature itself.

According to McCullers's novel, the cause of suicidal-murderous sterility is the tendency toward transcendental, symbolic thought. As I have already suggested, the thing that Antonapoulos holds in his hand is not only the crucifix (which figures the Law of the Father) but (by implication) his penis, which is the Law of the Father in its biological form. What makes Singer voiceless in the first place and what keeps him voiceless until the end is his fear of being exposed as merely human, a biological and sexual creature, neither divine nor transcendent.

There was one particular fact that he remembered [about his childhood], but it was not at all important to him. Singer recalled that, although he had been deaf since he was an infant, he had not always been a real mute. He was left an orphan very young and placed in an institution for the deaf. He had learned to talk with his hands and to read. Before he was nine years old he could talk with one hand in the American way—and also could employ both of his hands after the method of Europeans. He had learned to follow the movements of people's lips and to understand what they said. Then finally he had been taught to speak…. But he could never become used to speaking with his lips. It was not natural to him, and his tongue felt like a whale in his mouth. From the blank expression on people's faces to whom he talked in this way he felt that his voice must be like the sound of some animal or that there was something disgusting in his speech. It was painful for him to try to talk with his mouth, but his hands were always ready to try to shape the words he wished to say. When he was twenty-two he had come South to this town from Chicago and he met Antonapoulos immediately. Since that time he had never spoken with his mouth again, because with his friend there was no need for this.

Singer's silence is foremost a response to his particular handicap, which is deafness. But his response carries with it the force of a more general and pervasive human response to the problematics of speaking. Immediately after Singer's discovery of Antonapoulos's death, a strange thing happens that suggests that Singer's flight from speech may not be from the possibility of not being understood or being thought of as less than human. On the contrary, it might represent a flight from the possibility that he may well be understood, not as a brilliant, multilingual student but as a mere mortal, who gropes for and stumbles over words that may not only express what he wants to say but that may expose all his human frailty.

Singer meets "three mutes … talking with their hands together. All three of them were coatless. They wore bowler hats and bright ties. Each of them held a glass of beer in his left hand. There was a certain brotherly resemblance between them…. He was clapped on the shoulder. A cold drink was ordered. They surrounded him and the fingers of their hands shot out like pistons as they questioned him." After a few awkward efforts to communicate with them, Singer abandons communication for the last time, "his hands dangling loose … his head … inclined to one side and his glance … oblique." Singer's choice not to communicate with these friendly, brotherly mute people, who—unlike everyone else in the novel, including Antonapoulos—couldunderstand him, suggests that Singer cannot face the possibility that he is like other human beings, absurdly, comically identical with them (as they are identical with each other), that speech reduces him, not to the animalistic or subhuman, but to the human. Singer will not seek out his brothers for to do so would be to discover he is one of them.

That his tongue in his mouth feels like a whale prompts us to think of Melville's novel. So does Biff's denial of his sexuality. Like Ahab, Biff and Singer prefer to imagine themselves as not limited by biology. In McCullers's novel, speaking silently (which is to say speaking not to be understood) is associated with a withdrawal from sexual relations. Phallocentricism, the author suggests, does not necessarily place the penis in the position of power. Rather, in denying that the penis is potent sexual agent, it may be substituting a feeble and ineffectual law of abstract, intellectually derived symbols of the world for the procreative, phallicly reproduced biohistorical world itself. McCullers's male characters (excluding Biff) are not feminized males or androgynous human beings, realizing the fusion of male and female principles. They are self-castrated men, who relinquish male potency and deny procreative power.

The relation between the assertion of phallocentric law and the denial of phallic biology in self-canceling males characterizes another important precursor of McCullers's art. Like Jay Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby, the men who populate the world of McCullers's text desire to be Platonic conceptions of self. The case of Gatsby is instructive, both for McCullers's novel and for Flannery O'Connor's The Violent Bear It Away. Not only does Gatsby (in true Freudian romance fashion) disown his parents ("his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all"), but he rejects reconciliation with the biological terms of human birth altogether: "He was the son of God—a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that—and he must be about His Father's business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end." Gatsby's Platonic conception of himself rejects the biological woman: "He knew women early, and … he became contemptuous of them, of young virgins because they were ignorant, of the others because they were hysterical about things which in his overwhelming self-absorption he took for granted." When he falls in love with Daisy he knows that "when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God…. At his lips' touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete." Gatsby's desire, moments earlier, to mount to a "secret place above the trees" where "he could suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder" is fulfilled only in the birth of self that his relationship to Daisy produces.

Gatsby culminates in a uterine birthing motion (as opposed to a phallic thrust) reminiscent of Moby Dick. But this birthing can only be endured; it cannot itself give birth: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaseless into the past." Male "brooding" produces only Platonic conception and incarnation. It does not bear life. Fitzgerald's novel reveals what emerges as a problem in Faulkner's and Anderson's writings as well: that male imaginings of the female, for all their generosity and goodwill, may not be able to move beyond gestation (brooding) to birth. Because Gatsby will not be a man ready to assume the responsibilities of the phallus, he dies, stillborn after his self-inseminated virgin birth. McCullers's silent Singer, orphan and bachelor, embodies similar problems.

Much has been made in recent feminist criticism of the multivocalism, authorial decenteredness, and indeterminate open-endedness of novels by women. All are understood to be antiphallocentric strategies. All to some degree characterize McCullers's novel, as they also characterize the fiction of McCullers's two major literary predecessors, William Faulkner and Sherwood Anderson. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter flows uninterruptedly from consciousness to consciousness, weaving together the community that does not exist within the world of the novel. But like Anderson's and Faulkner's strategies of antiphallocentricism, McCullers's threaten to produce a non-progenerative and perhaps antifemale sterility. Not only are Blount and Singer confirmed bachelors but Biff and Copeland are widowers (Biff's wife dies of a tumor as big as a baby). Portia, the strongest female presence in the book, is childless. At the close of the novel only Mick, on the verge of adulthood, remains to create a future. Mick's position at the end of the novel and her nurturing nature throughout are important for McCullers's idea of family. The figure who will enable her mothering is Portia.

Early in the novel McCullers presents an extended conversation between Portia and her father that pits Portia's female, African American discourse against her father's white-in-spired intellectual ideology, his language of law against her language of the biological and reproductive: "All his life he had told and explained and exhorted…. It is not more children we need but more chances for the ones already on the earth." Not only does Copeland's statement appear (indecorously) in the center of a conversation with his own daughter, but his thinking on this matter proceeds directly from a painful and equally blind conversation with Portia on her childlessness: "So you and your husband and your brother have your own cooperative plan," he says to her. "Do you intend to plan for children?" The text continues: "Portia did not look at her father. Angrily she sloshed the water from the pan of collards. 'There be some things,' she said, 'that seem to me to depend entirely upon God.'"

Copeland cannot understand—either about his daughter's communal living arrangements or about the many children produced by the black community—the positive and creative nature of these affirmations of life. For all his concern with the "Negro people" (as his interjections into Blount's Marxist discourse remind us), Copeland adopts a political philosophy as white as that of Blount. Copeland's rejection of Christianity might have constituted a part of a necessary turn away from white institutions to African American culture. It represents instead Copeland's decidedly masculinist rejection of the unknowable and the uncertain in human experience—his rejection both of women and of the African past of black Americans. "I am not interested in subterfuges," he says. "I am interested only in real truths." These real truths contain no space for "hell and heaven" or for the "ghosts" and "haunted places" of African legend. Therefore, Copelandturns to Marx for his politics, Spinoza for his philosophy, and Shakespeare for his literature. In resisting what he calls his wife Daisy's stubborn meekness—her insistence on teaching her children both Christianity and African Americanism—he resists as well his wife's sexuality.

The question that McCullers's novel raises, both in the conversation between Dr. Copeland and Portia and in the story as a whole, is, What does it mean to know by heart? McCullers writes: "Eugenic Parenthood for the Negro Race was what he would exhort them to. He would tell them in simple words, always the same way, and with the years it came to be a sort of angry poem which he had always known by heart." The question is inseparable from the issue of parenthood. To know by heart certainly does not mean what Copeland means: to memorize by rote and recite in anger, unwilling to wait for a reply, unyielding to the demands of conversation. To know by heart is something else entirely. "Hamilton or Buddy or Willie or me—none of us ever cares to talk like you," explains Portia. "Us talk like our own Mama and her peoples and their peoples before them. You think out everything in your brain. While us rather talk from something in our hearts that has been there for a long time."

The mother tongue that Portia speaks, when, for example, she tells her father about the amputation of Willie's feet, is the "low song" of "grief" (specifically African American grief) to which her father is "deaf." Copeland cannot hear and understand what Portia says any better than he could Daisy. "The sounds were distinct in his ear, but they had no shape or meaning." Like Mick, listening to the music of Beethoven, Copeland must discover the relation, not between words and meanings (he understands that well enough), but between words and feelings. Jake Blount's response to Willie's pain ("the terrible misery down in my toes … where my feets should be if they were on my l-l-legs") is political. So is his father's. But the response to loss cannot simply be an imagination of recovery and restitution. It must involve the pain that loss occasions. When the "black, terrible anger" does not come, the "feeling of a song" within Copeland finally takes shape and expresses itself:

He spoke no word and let them do with him as they would. He waited for the terrible anger and felt it arise in him. Rage made him weak, so that he stumbled…. It was only when they had entered the jail that the strength of his rage came to him…. A glorious strength was in him and he heard himself laughing aloud as he fought. He sobbed and laughed…. They dragged him foot by foot through the hall of the jail…. He fell to his knees on the floor…. [He] swayed to and fro…. He swayed,… and from his throat there came a singing moan. He could not think of William. Nor could he even cogitate upon the strong, true purpose and draw strength from that. He could only feel the misery in him. Then the tide of his fever turned. A warmth spread through him. He lay back, and it seemed he sank down into a place warm and red full of comfort.

By giving up on words, Copeland experiences his son's pain, even losing the use of his legs as he is dragged into the prison. And by experiencing that pain, he regains the language of misery, which expresses itself, not in words but in the almost maternal rocking and warmth of his body. The language of misery is the mother tongue, which his daughter and his wife have always spoken (or, sung) to him but which he cannot hear and speak until he experiences loss and misery bodily. For Copeland, however, it is too late to be husband, father, or community leader. He will not be able to convert feeling back into words, even the single word—love.

It is not, however, too late for Mick Kelly.

The mother tongue that Portia speaks is no less verbal, no less rational and conceptual, than the father tongue that her father inherits from Shakespeare and Marx. But in it words have less to do with exchanging information than with establishing relationship and mutuality. This language is affective rather than discursive; it nurtures, expresses, and evokes feelings and produces family, community, nation. "A person can't pick up they children and just squeeze them to which-a-way they wants them to be," Portia says to her father. "Whether it hurt them or not. Whether it right or wrong. You done tried that hard as any man could try. And now I the only one of us that would come in this here house and sit with you like this." Portia is able to accept people as they are. Childless, she can envision herself the mother of racially, culturally, sexually different others. "Them three little children is just like some of my own kinfolks," she says of Mick, Bubber, and the baby. "I feel like I done really raised Bubber and the baby. And although Mick and me is always getting into some kind of quarrel together, I haves a real close fondness for her too…. Mick now … she a real case. Not a soul know how to manage that child. She just as biggity and headstrong as she can be…. Mick puzzles me sometimes. But still I really fond of her."

Like the commune that she builds with her husband and brother, Portia's extended family reconceptualizes the idea of kinship. (We might recall Blount's claims to be Negro, Jew, and Indian and the continuing refrain that Singer is a Jew.) Mick benefits directly from the mothering that Portia provides. As in many of the novels discussed in Marianne Hirsch's Mother/Daughter Plot, the mother in Carson McCullers's novel is strangely silent, as are Mick's two older sisters, Hazel and Etta. It is as if Mick can become a strongly motivated, artistic, and imaginative female only by silencing the women who precede and create her. Like Frankie Addams in McCullers's other novel about a female adolescent, The Member of the Wedding, Mick is a self-declared tomboy, who, on more than one occasion, expresses her preference for maleness; the names Mick and Frankie capture this feature of the girls' personalities. But Mick is not motherless, either literally or figuratively. Like Frankie and (we might add) like Caddy in Faulkner's Sound and the Fury, Mick enjoys the mothering of a loving and wise black woman.

In the Lacanian model language not only responds to the loss and absence of objects in the world but occasions loss and absence. In McCullers's novel, language, in responding to the primary painfulness of loss, keeps feeling (especially the feeling of maternal love) alive. Portia does not educate Mick in the Law of the Father—in language as a substitute for and repetition of loss (language, in other words, as symbolic consciousness). Rather, she instructs her in the affect of the mother: language as the expression of and reproduction of pain, the pain of the separation from and loss of the mother. As a surrogate mother, Portia is both mother and not-mother. She reconstructs the mother in a lost relationship and in an uninterrupted and unmitigated love, which does not cease simply because the mother-child bond has moved from its initial phase of total interdependence. She also suggests a relationship between mother and child that does not depend on the biological link between them. Herself motherless, Portia continues to feel the influence of her mother's love, which she incorporates into everything from her mode of being to her way of speaking. Childless, she transmits that love to genetically and racially different others.

In almost everybody's reading of the novel, Mick is the primary figure of the artist. "Empty" and confused, not a "feeling or thought in her," Mick seeks more than an idea in her art, whether an idea of God or even (as in the case of Singer) an idea of love: she searches for feeling. She pursues the language that transcribes feeling, that renders feeling an instrument of human relatedness. The following scene provides the countermoment to Singer's transcendental vision. Both scenes proceed through dream to mystical, religious vision; and both are violent. But whereas Singer's dream culminates in an aphasic collapse into suicide and death, Mick's initiates her into the responsibilities of living, speaking, and loving in a human world.

The music started. Mick raised her head and her fist went up to her throat. How did it come? For a minute the opening balanced from one side to the other. Like a walk or march. Like God, strutting in the night…. It didn't have anything to do with God. This was her, Mick Kelly, walking in the day-time and by herself at night…. This music was her—the real plain her…. Wonderful music like this was the worst hurt there could be. The whole world was this symphony, and there was not enough of her to listen…. She put her fingers in her ears. The music left only this bad hurt in her and a blankness…. Suddenly Mick began hitting her thigh with her fists. She pounded the same muscle with all her strength until the tears came down her face. But she could not feel this hard enough. The rocks under the bush were sharp. She grabbed a handful of them and began scraping them up and down on the same spot until her hand was bloody…. With the fiery hurt in her leg she felt better. She was limp on the wet grass, and after a while her breath came slow and easy again…. The night was quiet…. She was not trying to think of the music at all when it came back to her…. She could see the shape of the sounds very clear and she would not forget them.

Now she felt good.

Blending the sexual and the religious, the passage initially suggests a displacement of meaning along a transcendental pyramid reminiscent of Singer's dream. Art almost transports Mick beyond language, where one need not specify what a thing is. But beyond language is unconsciousness. To regain life, Mick must regain language. Only when the sounds come back to her as material shapes, formed letters, does she feel good. Unlike Singer, who cannot convert the dream back into signs, Mick is restored to language. She is returned to family, to her parents, whom she knows must by this time be worried. Whereas Mick's brother Bill is always poring over words in a book, her own "pictures [are] full of people." The shapes of the musical notes, like the shapes of words and the drawings of people, preserve for Mick the materiality of art, with which the men in the novel (including Bill and Singer and Blount and Copeland) are willing to dispense. McCullers thus deftly picks up the threads of Hester's lawless embroidery and weaves them into a new musical and pictorial speaking of the mother tongue. By weaving together Mick and Singer, McCullers reminds us of what we tend to forget about the written or engraved word: its essentially material form. Through the relationship between Mick and Portia, McCullers remembers that language originates in the mother, not the father. That Singer is an orphan may have some bearing on his never having learned how to speak. Learning to speak has to do with more than the acquisition of a vocabulary of words.

The book ends with a vision of historical continuity and procreative possibility. What stands between the silence that divests us of world and self, and the images or words that are only the imposition of self on the world is "one word—love."

The silence in the room was deep as the night itself. Biff stood transfixed, lost in his meditations. Then suddenly he felt a quickening in him. His heart turned and he leaned his back against the counter for support. For in a swift radiance of illumination he saw a glimpse of human struggle and of valour. Of the endless fluid passage of humanity through endless time. And of those who labour and of those who—one word—love. His soul expanded. But for a moment only. For in him he felt a warning, a shaft of terror. Between the two worlds he was suspended. He saw that he was looking at his own face in the counter glass before him. Sweat glistened on his temples and his face was contorted. One eye was opened wider than the other. The left eye delved narrowly into the past while the right gazed wide and affrighted into a future of blackness, error, and ruin. And he was suspended between radiance and darkness. Between bitter irony and faith. Sharply he turned away … he composed himself soberly to await the morning sun.

Throughout the novel Biff has presented a unique image of male-female gender distinction. Sexually inadequate, perhaps even impotent (like Singer, Antonapoulos, Copeland, and even Blount), Biff is not a sexual male. But unlike these other characters (and like Mick's more adolescent self), Biff's androgyny does not stand opposed either to women or to procreation.

His eyes closed he began to sing in a doleful voice:

     I went to the animal fair,
     The birds and the beasts were there,
     And the old baboon by the light of the moon
     Was combing his auburn hair.

He finished with a chord from the strings and the last sounds shivered to silence in the cold air.

To adopt a couple of little children. A boy and a girl. About three or four years old so they would always feel like he was their own father. Their Dad. Our Father. The little girl like Mick (or Baby?) at that age. Round cheeks and grey eyes and flaxen hair. And the clothes he would make for her…. The boy was dark and black-haired. The little boy walked behind him and copied the things he did…. And then they would bloom as he grew old. Our Father. And they would come to him with questions and he would answer them.

Biff dreams of the nurturing, self-sacrificing, interactive responsibilities, not of fathering as opposed to mothering, but of parenting. Nor is parenting necessarily biological. Biff will adopt these children, not produce them biologically, and he will perform for them the function of mother and father both. Like Portia, Biff is not restricted by convention. He has a similarly expansive vision of procreative possibility, which is what his final vision represents. He speaks the language of rhyme and limerick, the language of the nursery.

Love in McCullers's novel is thus both creative and procreative. It is word. But it is also a quickening and a labor. Like Hawthorne and Melville, McCullers creates a neutral ground between the imaginary and the real, between radiance and darkness and irony and faith, where anyone may well end up alone, shut away from private hopes and expectations (like Mick at Woolworth's), staring into one's own face. The maternal function, so prevalent in the nineteenth-century women's tradition, is nonetheless here brought to bear with powerful force. For one can, like Biff, choose to turn away from despair and to compose oneself, not merely submitting to the condition of the human but responding to and perpetuating that condition. Just as Biff pulls himself together (in an almost Thoreauvian fashion) to meet the morning sun, so Mick is also at the end poised on the path to a future of responsibility and human commitment. The love of family that sends her out of the private room of her fantasies of artistic self-fulfillment (a self-fulfillment associated throughout the book with a withdrawal from family and society) is the promise of a future.

To say this is not to deny Mick's anger and frustration at the end of the book, any more than it is to deny Biff's definite pain. Taking responsibility for the remaining payments on Singer's radio, Mick knows both that "it was good to have something that had belonged to him" and that it is only a remote possibility that "maybe one of these days she might be able to set aside a little for a second-hand piano."

Maybe it would be true about the piano and turn out O.K. Maybe she would get a chance soon. Else what the hell good had it all been—the way she felt about music and the plans she had made in the inside room? It has to be some good if anything made sense. And it was too and it was too and it was too and it was too. It was some good.

All right!

O.K.!

Some good.

The lines are ambiguous. There is no saying with certainty how to read the final "Some good." Every realistic assessment tells us that Mick will suffer the same disappointments that everyone else in the world of the novel has suffered. Yet the text is not realistic. The word good resounding through the passage sets up a condition of affirmation that is not so easily ignored. Set as it is against the argument in the novel about the problems of political and literary discourse, the phrase "some good" represents the only kind of affirmation that matters: affirmation in the face of doubt, in the midst of pain, affirmation of life in the midst of living and producing life.

This is the affirmation that Biff achieves at the end of the novel. The optimism of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter derives finally from a faith in words wedded to feeling and to the desire, which such language embodies, to communicate with love. In spite of the sharp criticism of words—words—words, the book gives us all of those words, quoted and unexpurgated. And in spite of its equivalent distrust of the dissolution of literary language into silence, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is a work of literature. But it is a female romance, in which the direction of human creativity is the direction of procreation as well. Its direction, in other words, is toward family and community, reconstructed and redefined. Like Biff, the author chooses to turn away not only from any one language but from the impasse to which the competition between languages can take us and which would yield silence in one form or another. It composes itself as a multiphonic, many-voiced text, representing not an indeterminate or decentered text but a multifaceted consciousness. The novel is committed to speaking. It enters into a community of voices. In this community every voice, like every person, is equally entitled and permitted and finally encouraged to speak. Speaking even one word becomes the source of community. To speak is, for McCullers, to be willing to make oneself understood and, understood, to be willing to understand what somebody else is saying; equally important, to speak is to be willing to feel and, feeling, to enter into the lives of others and to produce other lives. The human condition is to exist between impossible alternatives. What mediates between them, what makes them bearable, and what is itself a figure for the torment that is also salvation is the single word—love.

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McCullers, Carson (Vol. 1)