Tuesday, 19 June 2001

Carson McCullers: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1943)

Edition: Century Hutchinson, 1986 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 843

One of the themes of McCullers' novels is the idea of a passionate nature unable for some reason to express that side of their personality; it is a trait common to most of the characters in this, her most famous novel. It depicts the poor in a town in the Southern United States in the late thirties, both black and white, and while conscious of race issues it is far more about the effects of poverty.

The best example of this is the young girl Mick Kelly. She has a great gift for music, but all she can ever hear is snatches from other people's radios, because her family is so poor. She will have to go to work almost as soon as she can, to help them survive, and her gift is unlikely ever to mean anything.

The one character who is able to express himself is, ironically, the deaf-mute Singer. He brightens up the lives of the other main characters by showing them a true, considerate love. In the end, though, even he is unable to transform the situations they confront, just as the Christian and Communist evangelists cannot.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a powerful novel of unfulilled yearning, which paints a bleak picture of what poverty meant in pre-War America. The War is to engulf all these people in a few years - the novel was published after the US entered the conflict - and a few touches remind us of what is to happen. The War did not change things permanently; the US still contains massive differences in wealth, and being born in a poor neighbourhood is still almost certainly going to have massive effects on many aspects of a person's life.

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