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clifhostetler

Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - Carson McCullers, Cherry Jones My Summary:
Despair--Dreams of hope--No justice--Things never change.

Explanation of my summary:

The story takes place in the American South among the poor underclass in the late 1930s. The social, economic and racial realities of this setting are oppressive to any human hope for a better life. I summarize this condition as, “Despair.”

Many of the book’s characters have a dream of how life could be improved. The young teenager, Mick, longs to be a musician. The aging black doctor, Dr. Copeland, speaks endlessly of ways to improve life of “his people.” The heavy-drinking, Jake, rants about socialism’s promise to correct the injustices of capitalism. Proprietor of a central eating spot and bar in town, named Biff, is a quiet observer of life. All of these characters expound on their dreams of hope by visiting the town’s deaf-mute, Mr. Singer, who is a good listener and won’t interrupt them while they’re talking. In their minds they have made Mr. Singer the ultimate wise listener so their talking to him is a sort of symbolic praying to God. I summarize this aspect of the book as “Dreams of hope.”

Ironically, the deaf-mute to whom they have been speaking doesn’t really understand why they are talking to him. He has his own compulsion to send letters and occasionally visit his deaf-mute friend in an insane asylum. In the end, all the expressions of hope of these characters are in vain. The deaf-mute's friend dies, Mr. Singer commits suicide, and teenager Mick quits school so she can help her poverty stricken family by working. Dr. Copeland is beat-up by police for his protesting the maiming his son by prison guards. Alcoholic Jake leaves town town to avoid possible charges of instigating a riot of which he is innocent. This I call, “No justice.”

By the end of the book it is clear to the reader that nothing will change (i.e. "Things never change"). The only possible ray of hope is Mick because of her youth. Maybe something will change for her in the future. At the end of the book café owner Biff surmises what he has witnessed as follows:
“For in a swift radiance of illumination he saw a glimpse of human struggle and of valor. Of the endless fluid passage of humanity through endless time. And of those who labor and of those who—one word—love. His soul expanded. But for a moment only. For in him he felt a warning, a shaft of terror... he was suspended between radiance and darkness. Between bitter irony and faith."
Despite the bit of optimism in the above quotation, I was left depressed by the book. I recognize the book as good literature, and given the era in which it was written (published 1940) it was ahead of its time by naming the injustices of economic, cultural and racial inequalities in the American South. This book has captured the essence of being human in a imperfect world while persevering with the task at hand. But I experienced the book much the same as taking bitter medicine. That explains why I gave it two stars.

Below is a review from PageADay Book Lover's Calendar for March 5, 2013:
Maybe you were assigned this magnificent novel in school, so it’s been a long time since you’ve read it—or maybe you never read it at all. In either case, it’s time to (re)embrace its wonders. Set in Depression-era Georgia, the story revolves around two protagonists: John Singer, a deaf mute isolated by his silence, and Mick Kelly, a young girl who searches for beauty through music. The miracle of the novel is its breathtaking insight into the human condition.
THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER, by Carson McCullers (1940; Mariner, 2004)