Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Carson McCullers’ first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, explores what Nathaniel Hawthorne called “the labyrinth of the human heart.” Just as the spokes of a wheel revolve around a hub, the lives of Mick Kelly, Jake Blount, Dr. Benedict Mady Copeland, and Biff Brannon revolve around the deaf-mute John Singer.

The teenager, Mick, is the only character in the book who grows or changes; the sections that relate to her are a Bildungsroman that traces a young girl’s movement from the instinctive emotionalism of childhood, through the advent of preadolescence and awakening sexuality, to the final thrust of maturity that brings disillusionment in love. Mick’s first disappointing sexual experience with Harry West left her feeling very old, “a grown person now, whether she wanted to be or not.” She gravitates toward Singer, who serves as her god until his suicide brings an end to her dreams. She knows that she will never become a famous musician and instead goes to work ten hours a day in a ten-cent store to contribute to the family income. Her childhood is over.

In her outline of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter—published first in Oliver Evans’ biography The Ballad of Carson McCullers (1965) and later in McCullers’ The Mortgaged Heart (1971)—McCullers states that the theme of her novel is “man’s revolt against his own inner isolation and his urge to express himself as fully as is...

(The entire section is 493 words.)