The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
By Carson McCullers
(Mariner Books, Paperback, 9780618526413, 368pp.)
Publication Date: April 2004
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With the publication of her first novel, THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER, Carson McCullers, all of twenty-three, became a literary sensation. With its profound sense of moral isolation and its compassionate glimpses into its characters' inner lives, the novel is considered McCullers' finest work, an enduring masterpiece first published by Houghton Mifflin in 1940. At its center is the deaf-mute John Singer, who becomes the confidant for various types of misfits in a Georgia mill town during the 1930s. Each one yearns for escape from small town life. When Singer's mute companion goes insane, Singer moves into the Kelly house, where Mick Kelly, the book's heroine (and loosely based on McCullers), finds solace in her music. Wonderfully attuned to the spiritual isolation that underlies the human condition, and with a deft sense for racial tensions in the South, McCullers spins a haunting, unforgettable story that gives voice to the rejected, the forgotten, and the mistreated -- and, through Mick Kelly, gives voice to the quiet, intensely personal search for beauty.
Richard Wright praised Carson McCullers for her ability "to rise above the pressures of her environment and embrace white and black humanity in one sweep of apprehension and tenderness." She writes "with a sweep and certainty that are overwhelming," said the NEW YORK TIMES. McCullers became an overnight literary sensation, but her novel has endured, just as timely and powerful today as when it was first published. THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER is Carson McCullers at her most compassionate, endearing best.
Carson McCullers (1917-1967) was the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, The Member of the Wedding, Reflections in a Golden Eye, and Clock Without Hands. Born in Columbus, Georgia, on February 19, 1917, she became a promising pianist and enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music in New York when she was seventeen, but lacking money for tuition, she never attended classes. Instead she studied writing at Columbia University, which ultimately led to The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, the novel that made her an overnight literary sensation. On September 29, 1967, at age fifty, she died in Nyack, New York, where she is buried.
- The title of the book comes from a poem by William Sharp, with the lines “But my heart is a lonely hunter that hunts / On a lonely hill.” What is the significance of the title? Is each character in the novel hunting the same thing, or is each in search of something different? McCullers’s original title for the book was The Mute. Why do you suppose the change was made?
To me the most impressive aspect of THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER is the astonishing humanity that enables a white writer, for the first time in Southern fiction, to handle Negro characters with as much ease and justice of those of her own race. This cannot be accounted for stylistically or politically; it seems to stem from an attitude toward life.” -- Richard Wright
"When one puts [this book] down, it is with . . . a feeling of having been nourished by the truth." --May Sarton
"A remarkable book . . . [McCullers] writes with a sweep and certainty that are overwhelming." The New York Times
"Quite remarkable . . . McCullers leaves her characters hauntingly engraved in the reader's memory." The Nation
"To me the most impressive aspect of 'The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter' is the astonishing humanity that enables a white writer, for the first time in Southern fiction, to handle Negro characters with as much ease and justice as those of her own race." -- Richard Wright New Republic
"One cannot help remarking that this is an extraordinary novel to have been written by a young woman of twenty-two; but the more important fact is that it is an extraordinary novel in its own right, considerations of authorship apart." -- Saturday Review of Literature Saturday Review
"The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter has remarkable power, sweep and certainty . . . Her art suggests a Van Gogh painting peopled with Faulkner figures." The New York Times Book Review
"Sensitively conceived and expertly told . . . Its quality as writing and the intensity of its theme combine to make it one of the outstanding novels of recent years." --Times-Picayune
"Besides telling a good story, the author has peopled it with a small group of characters so powerfully drawn as to linger long in memory." Philadelphia Inquirer
"[McCullers] writes with a calm and factual realism, and with a deep and abiding insight into human psychology. She does so without an iota of vulgarity and bawdiness, in a manner which many a present day novelist would do well to study." Boston Globe
"There is not only the delicately sensed need that one might expect youth to know but an even more delicately sensed ironic knowledge." The Chicago Tribune
"The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is a miracle of compassion, pity, and irony. Form and matter are perfectly blended in the novel." --Virginia Quarterly Review