My English teacher friends and I decided to read Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter for a summer book club. I will be totally honest and tell you that this was not my favorite book; however, there was a lot of truth in it.
The novel centers around a deaf mute named John Singer. The setting is a Southern mill town in between World Wars I and II. The characters in the novel are all attached to Singer in some way; all for different reasons. Singer is the perfect listener (mainly because he cannot talk), and each individual has something they want people to listen to. Each character turns Singer into exactly what they want him to be. People are searching for something and someone to believe in, and the characters in the novel believe they have found this in John Singer.
McCullers does a wonderful job highlighting the longing that humanity has to be something more than what we are. Everyone is searching for something. Everyone wants someone else to truly understand them. The novel highlights how some search to fill the void with knowledge, some with music, some with purpose, and some simply don’t know what it is they are searching for. In the novel, Singer is the personification of everything people use to find a greater purpose for themselves. The catch is that he is not any of the things that the other characters make him to be. He is just a man who is kind enough to allow people to talk and vent while he smiles and nods. He doesn’t even understand everything they are telling him. Honestly, the first lesson I learned from the book is the less you talk the more people are drawn to you.
The novel’s conclusion leaves a lot to be desired, in my opinion. But that is mostly because I like closure; however, life doesn’t always give us closure. This aspect makes the novel more real.
It isn’t an easy read. I had to struggle through it, but it sparks a lot of discussion.
Here are some of my favorite quotes:
- Next to music, beer was best.
- Maybe when people longed for a thing that bad the longing made them trust in anything that might give it to them.
- How can the dead be truly dead when they live in the souls of those they left behind?
- It was funny, too, how lonesome a person could be in a crowded house.
- The most fatal thing a man can do is try to stand alone.
- I want – I want – I want – was all she could think about – but what this real want was she didn’t know.
- All we can do is go around telling the truth.
- But look what the church has done to Jesus during the last 2000 years. What they have made of him. How they have turned every word he spoke for their own vile ends.
- The whole world was a symphony, and there was not enough of her to listen.