(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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.

In part...

(The entire section is 797 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Two mutes—one a grossly overweight Greek man named Antonapoulos; the other, a tall, immaculate man named Mr. Singer—live together for ten years in a small, Southern town; they have no other friends. After an illness, the Greek man changes. When he begins to be obscene in public, the cousin for whom he works sends him to the state insane asylum. Mr. Singer is despondent without his friend.

Mr. Singer starts to eat all of his meals at the New York Café, owned by Biff Brannon, who feels a particular connection to people in need. When Jake Blount, a squat, powerful man, comes to town, he goes on a weeklong drinking spree at Biff’s expense. One night, Jake finds Mr. Singer eating at the café, and he decides that the mute man is the only person who can understand him and his message. Mr. Singer takes the drunk Jake home, providing him a temporary place to stay. Only in the morning does Jake realize that Mr. Singer is hearing impaired and mute. He still feels, however, that Mr. Singer can understand everything.

Mr. Singer takes a room at the Kellys’ boardinghouse, where he encounters Mick, one of the Kelly children. Just entering her teens, Mick is a gangly girl, always dressing in shorts, a shirt, and tennis shoes. She loves music and will go anywhere to hear it. Some nights, she goes to a big house in town where she can hear symphonic music through the open windows while she crouches in the shrubbery. At home, Mick never shares her dreams or yearnings with anyone except Mr. Singer, who lets her talk to him when she is lonely.

Mick decides, after entering high school, that she needs to make some friends. Planning a dance, she invites only high school students. Mick decorates the house with fall leaves and red crepe paper, and she borrows an evening dress, high-heeled shoes, and a tiara from her sisters. On the night of the party, the guests arrive and separate into groups. When Mick hands out the promenade cards, the boys go to one side of the room, the girls to the other. Silence descends. A boy named Harry finally asks Mick to promenade around the block, but, while she and Harry walk, all of the neighborhood children join the party. By the time Mick gets back, the decorations are torn, the refreshments gone, and the invited and the uninvited guests mixed up so badly that the party is in a state of bedlam. Everyone congregates in the street to run races and jump ditches, the partygoers forgetting their nearly adult state. Mick finally calls off the party after she has been knocked breathless on a jump she could have made easily in her tennis shoes.

Portia works for the Kellys. Her father, Dr. Copeland, is the only African American doctor in town. He is an idealistic man who has always struggled to help his people to raise themselves out of their poverty and ignorance. One night, Mr. Singer steps up to help Dr. Copeland light a cigarette in the rain. It is the first time a...

(The entire section is 1195 words.)