Carson Mccullers: The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter Essay, Research Paper
Carson McCullers: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Lula Carson Smith was born on February 19, 1917. She was the oldest of three children.
Carson found herself to be very good at playing the piano at a young age. She shocked her mother at age six by sitting down and playing with both hands a song she heard for the first time that afternoon in a movie theater. From then until late high school, she practiced fervently and hoped to carry her work onto a musical education at the New York Julliard School. However, at seventeen, she was told that she had pneumonia and would have many complications. Later, she found out she had rheumatic fever. She was too weak to play piano during her long recuperation, so she took to writing plays in the style of a favorite author, Eugene O’Neill.
In late high school Carson faced the crushing blow of losing her mentor and piano teacher, Mary Tucker. She was so devastated by this loss that she put aside her interest in piano permanently. She hoped to develop her new found love of writing. She made plans to leave for New York directly after graduation. She was barely seventeen when she arrived in Manhattan and registered for classes at Columbia University.
Repeated attacks of anemia, pleurisy, and other respiratory ailments related to her rheumatic fever interrupted her formal studies and frequently drove her south to recuperate. At this time was when she met Reeves McCullers, a Fort Bennington soldier from Alabama, who was also an aspiring writer. They were married on September 20, 1937. By 1940, she was already fading out of the romantic honeymoon phase of her marriage and left by herself to return to New York. After arriving, she separated from Reeves and took up residence in a boardinghouse arrangement of artists at a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights, NY. She remained here for four years.
During her separation from Reeves, Carson realized that she had alternative sexual yearnings and she fell in love with a Swiss novelist named Annemarie Clarec-Schwartzenbach. And a short time later, her husband fell in love with a man with whom he moved to Rochester, NY. They divorced not simply because of the legal grounds of adultery, but also because Carson found that Reeves had stolen some of her royalty checks when he left. Carson fell in love with a succession of other women. She was considered a lesbian by her friends in New York, but none her family in the south knew.
In 1943, Reeves was sent to the European front, and he wrote to Carson and begged for her forgiveness. The two exchanged letters throughout his stay and they remarried in 1945. They bought a house together in Paris. However, their life was chaotic and Carson soon left him again and then moved back to the states. Reeves committed suicide in 1953.
Carson lived with her mother in Nyack, New York for many years, and in 1947 Carson suffers two more stokes that left her partially disabled. Mrs. Smith died unexpectedly in 1955. Carson was devastated, and again alone. Over the next twelve years she became increasingly ill, and in 1962, she had surgery for breast cancer. On August 15 Carson suffered her last stroke and after laying comatose for 47 days from a massive brain hemorrhage, She died on September 29, 1967, at age fifty.
Carson McCullers was a prodigious young writer that first appeared in 1940, with the publication of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. “Carson McCullers is an enigma to many, even to those who knew her, including, to some extent the author herself. (Hershey, p.1)”Her work is marked with the feeling of loneliness that came from her lonely childhood. All of Carson’s characters share a particular characteristic which is their capacity to love, the live, and eventually die, but the all fall in love with a hopeless hope.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter revolves around five characters. The central character that holds the book together is John Singer. He is a deaf-mute, and his friend, another deaf-mute, Antonopoulos, is his best friend . When Antonopoulos is put in an asylum, Singer finds himself friendless, and unable to communicate with anyone. He goes to the owner of a caf , Biff Brannon, and eats at his restaurant three times a day. Through him, Singer meets three other people. One is a black man, Dr. Copeland, who is obsessed with educating his race and ending their oppression. Another is Jake Blount who is a white man who promotes socialist ideals. The third is a teenage girl, Mick, who wants to be a great composer, much like Carson, and whose family Singer ends up living with. These three people are constantly talking to the mute, who can’t really understand them; he can only lip-read. Not only do these characters pour their hearts out to someone who can’t grasp what they’re talking about, but in their minds they change him into someone who can understand them. Everyone in the town admires Singer. Every racial and religious group claims him as one of their own, and since little is known about him, none of the views can be contradicted. The reader, then, sees Singer through the eyes of these characters, and can easily be taken in as well, believing that the deaf-mute has superhuman understanding. It is much later in the story, in chapter seven of the second section, when the reader realizes that Singer understands little; he just lets “the people” in his room so he can avoid being lonely. But he must care for them, since he buys a radio for them to listen to when they come in, despite the fact that he cannot hear it. But the company of these friends isn’t enough for Singer–he needs to be the lover, not the one who is loved. This is where his friend Antonopoulos comes in. Even though he’s in a faraway asylum, Singer is content to love him. Singer never lets himself realize that his friend’s love is really not love at all. Antonopoulos only tolerate Singer for what he gives him. He stubbornly visits his friend whenever he can get the time off, and brings him expensive gifts. Perhaps Singer knows in his heart that the gifts are what makes his friend love him. He even writes his friend letters, but Singer must realize that Antonopoulos can’t quite understand these, since he never delivers them. In fact, Antonopoulos is a very simple character; all he is concerned with is food, and, on occasion, moving pictures. Yet Singer lets himself believe that this simple man can understand everything he says with his hands, and all his thoughts, just as Singer’s friends let themselves think that the mute understands them.
McCullers clearly show that Singer isn’t all-knowing many times in the book. In one instance Jake, the socialist, furiously tells Singer about how most people work themselves to death so a few can profit. Jake is so upset that he wants to start a fight with someone, when Singer carefully writes the simple question: “Are you Democrat or Republican?” (McCullers, Heart, 211) Jake crumples the piece of paper, but, looking into the mute’s eyes, suddenly realizes that Singer understands everything. Even when the reader sees that Singer doesn’t quite understand the people who visit him, his mind clings to how everyone else views him. Only when Biff Brannon state that the others had made Singer into “a sort of home made God” does the reader truly realize just how outlandishly McCullers’s characters have been picturing Singer. (McCullers, Heart, 371-72) Since he cannot speak, ideal characteristics are easily superimposed on him. What Mick, Dr. Copeland, and Jake need is someone to listen to them, and they found that, ironically, in a deaf man. Singer also desperately needs someone to listen. Being away from Antonopoulos is very hard for him. He finds himself dreaming about his friend and sometimes signing to himself in loneliness. Since he has no one to talk to, he doesn’t care for his hands meticulously as before, and hides them in his pockets. He seems to have chosen to be isolated. Like all people, Singer needs someone to listen without passing judgement, and he couldn’t achieve this need by speaking with a voice that he couldn’t hear. Singer’s ‘people’ find someone who won’t judge them in the deaf-mute. Yet when any of these characters are talking to anyone else, they feel isolated, since no one is really listening or understanding. They’d do just as well to write letters to no one, as Singer does to Antonopoulos, but somehow, that doesn’t have the same effect as talking face to face with a human, even one who won’t or can’t even understand what is being said.
Near the end of the second section of the novel, Singer visits the asylum, and finds that Antonopoulos is dead. After the initial shock, Singer becomes furious, and steals from the hotel as he checks out in a huff. He looks into a pool hall on his way out of town, and sees three mutes, talking to each other with their hands. He goes in to join them but soon realizes that Antonopoulos is the only one that he could talk to, and he has trouble listening if he is obligated to speak in return. He goes back to his town, takes “something heavy” from the jeweler he works for, puts it in his pocket, and returns to his bedroom. Then, in one sentence, he takes a pistol from his pocket and shoots himself in the chest. (463-65) The fact that Singer could no longer communicate his own thoughts obviously lead to this action. One concludes that McCullers sees human isolation as unavoidable, and only bearable if one can maintain an illusion of kinship with another human being. When the imagined attachment can no longer be maintained, life becomes unbearable, and something must give.
The worlds of Mick, Jake, and Dr. Copeland are all disturbed by Singer’s death. Dr. Copeland leaves his nice house in town to live with his family, people he sees as lower than him, and not living up to their own potential. Copeland had been able to believe that he was connected with his world as long as an understanding white man was able to listen to his views. If he could ‘convince’ a white man that the black people are able to rise up in ranks and improve their condition, then surely his own people would believe him. When Singer dies, this hope is extinguished. Copeland knows he’s dying of tuberculosis, and as he leaves his home, he finds himself unable to rise himself to tell his black family of their potential. He feels he has no way to communicate, and can no longer keep up with his cause. The reader feels that Dr. Copeland’s death is imminent, though it doesn’t occur in the course of the novel.
Jake feels anger when he hears of Singer’s death. He feels as if his secret thoughts are lost now that the one he told them to is dead. (481) He gets in a fight at the carnival where he works. Two blacks are killed by knives, and Jake isn’t sure if he was a killer or not. Finally, he just leaves town, hoping to win people to his views of the workers rising against the tyranny of their bosses. His way of dealing with an inability to communicate is to try to find a new ‘beloved,’ in another town.
Most critics think that Mick was affected the most by Singer’s death. She needs to work at Woolworth’s to bring in money for the family, and sees nothing more than a life of chore ahead. And Singer is dead. She gets drunk at Biff’s Caf , and decides that “next to music, beer was best.” (492) Her job makes her too tired to write music or dream,. She can no longer confess her feelings to her private notebook which, unlike a human, cannot die. Mick feels anger, like Jake, but not at any particular thing, which can be more frustrating than having something to hate. Still, she’s determined that maybe there’s a reason for living. An optimist can believe at Mick has a hope of fulfilling her dreams, since she does mention saving enough money to buy a second-hand piano. But it doesn’t quite seem good for Mick.
Carson McCullers doesn’t leave her stories completely devoid of hope, though. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter ends with Biff Brannon, who is the only one of Singer’s friends who are optimistic about the future. He’s also the only one who didn’t see Singer as a superman. Though the quality of the food in his caf has declined greatly, Biff realizes that there is more to life than food, and he arrange flowers in his storefront window instead of a sick looking plate of food. Though he feels more at peace, he doesn’t really love any one person. In a very scary moment, he sees “the endless fluid passage of humanity through endless time . . . those who labor and . . . those who–one word–love.” (McCullers, Heart, 497) This illustrates how frightening a possessive love is.
McCullers clearly shows the disappointment of possessive human love in her stories. What is less clear is what McCullers would think would be a way to soothe natural human loneliness, since this love cannot. So if one is a ‘freak’, and can’t fit expectations, he needs to find others who are feeling pain, to feel less lonely because someone else is suffering. It’s as if she wants to ease the suffering of her characters and herself by sharing her predicaments with the world. She had a very lonely childhood. She was bed ridden very often. And in the way where her characters have to find someone to feel sorry for, she created characters to feel sorry for so she would not have to feel sorry for herself. And, though her work leaves one with a feeling of sadness ,if people could just pay attention to the problems of everyone they meet, then perhaps the world would be less lonely. Until people can do that, though, humans will be forever trapped in a world of isolation.