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Mick Kelly: A young girl who is always in her own world, constantly thinking about music and wanting to go to a different country. She lives in the same house as Singer, and many other characters. She is tall and thin with blonde hair and blue eyes, and dresses like a tomboy.
John Singer: A deaf mute who all the characters lean on and depend on to talk to. Best friends with Antonapoulos. He is an attentive listener, but never fully understands anything. He is tall and thin with grey eyes.
Biff Brannon: Owner of a cafe, very observant and curious about the world around him. He is quiet most of the time, pondering what his life would be like with children of his own. He is dark-haired. Doesn’t depend or connect with Singer to the extent of Mick or Blount.
Jake Blount: A drunk, he frequently visits Brannon’s cafe, which is where he meets Singer. He has very erratic behavior, and can sometimes be violent. He is short, but has long arms and large hands.
Doctor Copeland: African American man. Portia’s father, although he drifted away from most of his family. He is constantly angry about the world and all of its injustices. He is a doctor, and works all the time. He is a very smart man.
Spiros Antonapoulos: Also a deaf mute, and is Singer’s best friend. He is sent to an insane asylum in the beginning of the novel, separating him and Singer after living together for more than ten years. He is fat and lazy.
Portia Copeland: African American woman. Doctor Copeland’s daughter lives in the house with Mick and Singer. She is very religious, and tries to push her beliefs onto her father as well as Mick. She doesn’t really ever connect with Singer, despite living in the same house as him. She is a strong woman.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter follows mainly the lives of Mick, Singer, Brannon, Blount, Copeland as they all go through their everyday lives, each of their lives having some sort of connection to each other. The story first begins with Singer and Antonapoulos, two deaf mutes. Quickly, Antonapoulos is moved away from Singer and put into an insane asylum. At this point, Singer has to completely change the routine lifestyle he is used to, which is when he moves out and meets Mick, Brannon, Blount and Copeland. After meeting Singer, these four characters find some sort of comfort and understanding in him. They each confide in Singer as a way to express their problems and just as someone to talk to, throughout their loneliness, especially during times of trouble. Mick’s family enters poverty, Copeland loses all of his wealth and his own son, Blount is a borderline alcoholic, and Brannon loses his wife. Each character thinks that Singer is the only one who can understand them, when in reality he is just as isolated and lost as they are. After Singer’s friend Antonapoulos dies, Singer kills himself because his death finally pushed him to his breaking point, as Antonapoulos was the only true friend Singer had. After these four characters find out about Singer’s death they become even more confused as no one knows his reason for suicide. They all lose the person they depended so much on in their everyday lives, that they almost no longer know how to act, therefore pushing them even further into this isolation and alienation. By the end, each character is left just as alone as they were in the beginning of the book.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter takes place during the Great Depression in the South. Readers are never made aware of the exact town or city the novel is based around. Knowing that it takes place during the Great Depression helps the readers understand more about each characters and their struggles, whether it be economically, physically, or mentally. It follows characters in the lower/middle class South, where there is a lot of racism and poverty, connecting to the one of the books themes: oppression and racism. This is also a major factor that influences characters mentally, especially Doctor Copeland as he is constantly angry because of all the racism and injustices surrounding people of color. The setting also gives readers an insight to religious beliefs during this time, Christianity being the strongest religion. But during the Depression, a lot of people turned their backs to religion as they blamed God for all the hardships in their lives, thinking it was the only explanation for all of this. McCullers hints at this through the death of Singer and Antonapoulos who were compared to Christ and God, and through the death of both of these characters, she is shutting down the existence and dependency that is associated with Christianity or any religious ideals.
The title The Heart is a Lonely Hunter holds a lot of relation and significance to the themes of the novel. The meaning is that each character is a “hunter”, each one hunting or wanting a different thing out of life, therefore sending them into this spiral of loneliness and isolation from others and the outside world. The title has also been related back to a poem by William Sharp. The specific line from the poem is “But my heart is a lonely hunter that hunts on a lonely hill”. The poem also includes similar themes to which are mentioned in McCullers’ book. Themes like the importance of music, isolation, and death.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is told in the third person point of view. The unknown narrator follows along about five main characters, switching from one to another every chapter, giving the readers more insight into their individual thoughts and feelings. This helps create a closer bond between the readers and the characters, allowing readers to relate themselves to different aspects of certain characters. The fact that the narrator is unknown makes the readers question who the narrator is and whether or not they are a reliable source. But due to the narrator’s knowledge and understanding of each characters thoughts and feelings, we are led to believe what is read to be coming from a reliable narrator. But the question of who the narrator is still remains unanswered and is up to speculation for the reader.
Every character in the Heart is a Lonely Hunter is struggling to break out of some sort of isolation or loneliness. By their own doing, they have all managed to isolate themselves from the world and those around them. This isolation is a combination of environmental as well as internal conflicts. For example, Doctor Copeland has the opportunity to build closer relations with his children, but there is something internally pushing him away from them. The narrator describes this by saying, “Doctor Copeland clamped his teeth down hard. He had thought so much about Hamilton and Karl Marx and William and Portia, about the real true purpose he had for them, that the sight of their faces made a black swollen feeling in him”. This clearly shows the internal conflict Copeland has, how he cannot seem to let go of these past views of his children, no matter how much older they have gotten and how much they have changed, therefore sending himself into isolation, unable to create loving relationships with anyone since he just pushes everyone out. Another example of a character who isolates themselves is Biff Brannon. After his wife’s death Brannon completely transforms, and doesn’t really have anyone to depend on, but he never makes an effort to change that. When people talk to him, he sort of brushes them off, never really giving anyone personal insight about him. At the very end of chapter two, the narrator says this about Brannon, “And he was nobody but – Bartholomew – old Biff with two fists and a quick tongue – Mister Brannon – by himself”. Within the first two chapters of the book, Brannon is described as “by himself”, but that fact never really changes. He ends everyday alone, has no one to go home to. He is one of the characters who doesn’t really seem to have an issue with being alone, as he just shows no interest or effort to change that. There is no internal or environmental conflict, just him and his thoughts that lead to his loneliness.
Throughout the book, we see very few characters who are actually very religious and depend on Christianity in their everyday lives. Besides Portia, and she tries to spread her religious life onto others, like Mick for example. Whenever Mick would talk to Portia about something in her life, Portia would tell her that she should try to go to church or pray. At one point when Mick was talking to her Portia says this in response to her, “Fools like you and my Father who don’t attend the church can’t ever have nair peace at all” (McCullers 50). This put this idea in Mick’s head that she needed some sort of authority or power in her life to depend on, how Portia depends on God, which is where Singer comes into Mick’s life. Mick sees him as her God, and she begins to depend on him and confide in him in most of her decision making, using him as guidance. The narrator describes Mick’s feelings towards Singer by saying, “She talked to him more than she had ever talked to a person before…It was like he was some kind of great teacher, only because he was a mute he did not teach”. This is why many relate Singer to God, as he was the anchor and great authority in so many of the readers’ lives. But, in reality he was just creating this false hope for them, filling the gaps of their loneliness, thinking that he actually cared for them. But, he never even considered them his friends. He was just their way of self-expression, because in reality he did not provide them with anything, as he could not even talk.
The main character who gets pushed to their breaking point out of anger because of racism and oppression is Doctor Copeland. He has very specific views on the injustices of the world, and gets easily triggered when people do not understand or agree with his viewpoints, therefore pushing him into a mentally unstable state. The first time he really gets into his opinions is at a party where he stands up in front of the crowd and says everything he has to say. At this point, he was very controlled and said some important things like, “The injustice of need must bring us all together and not seperate us”. He was simply preaching to the people just as Marx or MLK did. But, later in the book he gets pushed by Jake Blount, to a point of explosion as they have two completely different viewpoints. When arguing, Doctor Copeland is pushed to his breaking point, “HIs eyes were bloodshot and his hands clutched the counterpane… They looked at each other and waited. As the silence grew longer the tenseness between them became more strained”. Both of them were pushed so much by one another that they’re sitting there fuming. It is clear that the oppression and racism going on in society has caused both of them to spiral into this state. This fight scene is super important because it is sort of a realization for both Blount and Copeland that people are allowed to have different opinions, and clearly the opinion of a white man will not be the same to that of a colored man, as they did not have the same societal experiences.
Multiple characters hold a lot of curiosity for the world around them, but specifically Biff Brannon. McCullers showcases this curious tone through Biff’s fascination with Singer throughout the entirety of the novel. When Singer first shows up to his cafe, he immediately sparks Brannon’s interest, “Now and then his gaze passed on to the mute who sat by himself at one of the middle tables, or to others of the customers before the counter”. This is the very first description readers get of Brannon, learning quickly that he is very curious. It is shown through his eyes, gazing over everyone in his cafe, observing what everyone is doing. Later in the book he holds a similar fascination to the one of Singer, but this time directed towards Mick Kelly. He talks to his employee Harry, asking him about Mick, to which the narrator says, “Mick Kelly – He felt as though his ears had caught afire. He knew himself to be a fool. He wanted to turn and walk away yet he only stood there. Smiling and mashing his nose with his thumb”. He has this almost creepy interest with her, to the point where he is asking her friends for any information about her, letting his curiosity get the best of him.
McCullers uses this frustrated tone mainly when writing about Copeland, as he holds a lot of frustration about the world around him. One of his main frustrations is how it feels as though no one ever really fully understands him. He often thinks about whether or not he is understood after having a conversation with him, he thinks, “How much of that he has said today was understood? He recalled the words he has used, and they seemed to fade and lose their strength”. Him feeling often misunderstood leads to a lot of frustration for him, and also sends him into isolation. He feels as though he can never talk to anyone, because no one fully understands. This frustration developed from his past, when his children always took their mother’s side, never fully understanding the lessons he was trying to teach them. Most of the time he is precise with his words, but it is this internal struggle within him that thinks he will never be understood. He also becomes frustrated when people do not have the same beliefs as him, he thinks, “Doctor Copeland felt the old evil anger in him. The words rose inchoately to his throat and he could not speak them”. The frustrated tone used also makes readers feel almost as angry as Copeland, almost wishing that people would understand him and how he simply wants justice for people of color, and that his viewpoints are quite similar to those of modern day.
Throughout the entire novel, there are many characters that undergo changes. One of the main characters Mick, experiences the most development as she is growing through her teenage years. This creates a dynamic tone, as readers see Mick slowly lose her childhood innocence as she gets older. For example, Mick undergoes a drastic change at the very beginning of part two of the novel, the narrator says, “Nothing much happened that she could describe to herself in thoughts or words – but there was a feeling of change. All the time she was excited. In the morning she couldn’t wait to get out of bed and start going for the day”. At this point in the novel, Mick finally realizes the changes going on. She hits the realization and accepts that she is growing and maturing, accepting the inevitable adjustments that come with life. This specific quote showcases dynamic tone very well with the words “feeling of change” – it shows that Mick is a clear example of a dynamic character. A second example of another change that Mick undergoes, showcasing dynamic tone is her breaking point. Mick finally snaps as everything becomes too much for her, “She pounded the same muscle with all her strength until the tears came down her face. But she could not feel this hard enough… With the fiery hurt in her leg she felt better”. This point portrays a dynamic tone to it because this is not the same Mick readers see at the beginning of the novel. She is at her lowest point, showing drastic contrast to when she is at her best. This also shows how Mick’s viewpoint of the world has drastically changed too. From the first quote, when she was excited to go out into the world, to this point, when she has been pushed to the extent of self-harm.
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