The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter was the result of a strange creative process. Bedridden for weeks, McCullers wrote some character sketches. One day, in a flash of inspiration, she announced to her mother that the story would revolve around a deaf-mute named Singer to whom others pour out their hearts. The novel grew organically, without a controlling plot.
In part 1, the five main characters are introduced. Always polite, immaculately clean, and soberly attired, John Singer is oddly paired with Spiros Antonapoulos, a fat, retarded deaf-mute. After illness requires him to stop drinking wine, Antonapoulos develops antisocial habits. Singer offers excuses to the police, but his friend is committed to an insane asylum.
At an all-night café owned by Buff Brannon, Singer meets the radical drifter Jake Blount and the respected black doctor Benedict Copeland, men who hold Marxist views and aspire to revolution. Despite sharing similar views, their personalities are quite different. Blount is, by turns, a well-spoken fanatic and a swaggering, violent drunk. He accuses capitalists of liking pigs more than people, because people cannot be sold as sausage. People in the café, except for Singer and Brannon, dismiss such talk as drunken ranting. By contrast, Doctor Copeland is quite dignified and high-minded and is a well-read student of the philosopher Baruch Spinoza. Single-mindedly devoted to the “strong, true purpose” of desegregation, Copeland uses his brain rather than his heart and thus alienates potential allies such as Blount and his own family. In their different ways, Blount and Copeland allow fanaticism to dry up their powers of love.
Mick Kelly, a talented yet lonely girl of thirteen, is the most fully drawn character. Her family runs the shabby boardinghouse where Singer lives. To him she opens the “inside room” of her being, confiding in him her innermost feelings and aspirations.
(The entire section is 797 words.)