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Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Heart is A Lonely Hunter

The Heart is A Lonely Hunter

By Carson McCullers

(5/5 stars)

“Seek and ye shall find,” Jesus is quoted as saying in the Bible. All of us, no matter what our religious affiliation—or lack thereof—are seeking out a dream, a little piece of happiness. Sometimes this process is conscious and sometimes a subconscious imperative drives us forward towards that piece of happiness.

The five main characters of “The Heart is A Lonely Hunter” are all seeking their dreams in an unnamed mill town in the South in the late 1930s. For teenaged Mick Kelly, the dream is a career in classical music that her impoverished family can’t afford to provide. For the relentless black Doctor Copeland, the dream is freedom and equality for his people. For restaurateur Biff Brannon the dream is having children. For vertically-challenged drifter Jake Blount the dream is a Marxist revolution to level the playing field for all people. And last, but most important, the dream for deaf-mute John Singer is to be reunited with his long time partner Anatopolous, who was committed to an institution.

Singer becomes the prime focus for the other four. One by one they inadvertently seek him out and spill their wishes and desires to him, although he often doesn’t understand them. To Mick he is a secret friend who understands her. To Copeland he is a wise man who understands the struggles of the black minority. To Blount he is a comrade in arms for the revolution. And to Biff he is a kindred spirit, a fellow observer of humanity.

Yet for as much as he represents to them, they mean relatively little to Singer. His thoughts are consumed by his love—platonic, we assume—for Anatopolous, the one he thinks understands him. But much as Singer is a false idol to the other four, Anatopolous is a false idol for him, a lazy, selfish, slovenly person incapable of appreciating Singer’s love. In the end these troubled souls are left to pick up the pieces after the false idols shatter, as they inevitably do. This leads each of them to make a decision and to enter a new phase of life.

What makes this book so wonderful to read is the profound understanding of humanity shown here. All of us at one time or another have felt the pent-up ambition Mick feels at wanting something that remains just out of reach. We’ve felt the righteous anger to right a terrible injustice like Doctor Copeland. We’ve felt the isolation of being the outsider like Blount. We’ve all felt the confusion after a loss like Biff. And those of us fortunate enough—or perhaps unfortunate enough—have felt the heartache of an unrequited love like Singer.

These people all seem real because their hopes and desires are those hopes and desires we all have. Their dreams aren’t altogether different than those each of us seek, whether we’re aware of it or not. We know their longing and desperation to find someone who understands them, even if that someone is a deaf-mute who can only nod along.

Because of that, the book touches something deep in our consciousness, something primal within all of us—the need to seek out for something greater. The most astounding thing about “The Heart is A Lonely Hunter” is that the author was only twenty-three years old when she published this. At a time when most of us are just getting out into the “real world” and discovering ourselves, McCullers already had it figured out.

This is truly a literary achievement that you should seek out at your local bookseller or library at once, those who haven’t already done so based on Oprah’s recommendation.

That is all.

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