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MonkeyNotes-The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
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THEMES

Main Theme

In Carson McCullers’ first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, she explores the Themes of isolation and the search for connection. Instead of tracing the life of only one main character as traditionally novels have done, she balances the novel among the lives of five main characters, one of whom is the center around which the others circle.

The characters seem to represent all people, not just outcasts, since McCullers often shows glimpses of other people in the novel who are also lonely. However, McCullers’ main characters are outcast figures Mick Kelly who cannot fit into the narrowly prescribed roles of girlhood, Doctor Copeland, who cannot accept the fatalistic faith in an afterlife to solve the injustices of racism in the present life, and Jake Blount, who feels that he is among a few people who know the truth but cannot for all his efforts convince others of it. The two remaining characters, Biff Brannon and John Singer, fall into a different category than this outcast group. Biff Brannon follows the rules of the society, but likes to stand on the line between the norm and the "freak" and watch. John Singer has no motivating idea of his life. He spends his life in devotion to his one great love, Spiros Antonapoulos.

The related, though minor theme of the novel is the development of an artist and the way that development can be stifled by poverty and privation. Mick Kelly faces the daunting task to learning to be a composer and a musician without a teacher and without an instrument. She tries to get a classmate to tutor her, but her classmate has little knowledge and the arrangement falls apart. For all her passion to learn, Mick spends much of her time in frustrated pursuit of knowledge. If she had all the advantages that money could bring, she could be spending all this energy going far in her study of music. Instead, she spends her time trying to turn a broken ukulele into a violin and practicing the piano at the school’s gymnasium after school. At the end of the novel, her likelihood of succeeding in her desires seems very slim. Even though she tries to bolster her sense of hope that she will someday be able to buy a piano, the reader senses that this will never happen.


The idea of obsession connects both of these Themes. Each character has a reigning obsession which structures her or his life. An obsession means that the person is fixed on a particular idea and cannot think clearly or see past it. Reality becomes distorted when viewed through the lens of an obsession. Other people become instruments for gaining the object of obsession. The person who is obsessed is lonely and isolated with little hope of escaping. John Singer ends by committing suicide when the object of his obsession, Spiros Antonapoulos, dies. His suicide casts the other characters back on themselves, but it doesn’t seem to push them in different directions. Jake Blount will continue to batter people with his incomprehensible speech. Mick Kelly will continue to live in her own head feeling frustrated for not meeting her goals. Doctor Copeland will continue to feel that he has superior knowledge to the people around him and that they are all deluded and foolish. The only character who escapes his obsession is Biff Brannon, the spectator of the novel, who learns how to integrate his nature allowing for the fluidity of gender. He loses his obsession with Mick Kelly and the novel ends with him feeling a general kind of love for all the people he might encounter.

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