Places: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1940

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: 1930’s

Places DiscussedSouthern town

Southern Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Thetown. Unnamed town that provides the novel’s principal setting. The town is based on Columbus, Georgia, where Carson McCullers spent her formative years. McCullers left the South when she was seventeen and continued to express her hatred of the region, especially its racism, throughout her life. For example, she refused to donate her manuscripts to a library in Columbus, Georgia, because it was segregated. She also stated sarcastically that she had to revisit the South occasionally to renew her sense of horror. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is the only novel McCullers wrote while residing in the South.

Mick Kelley’s house

Mick Kelley’s house. One of the biggest houses on the north side of town. Three stories tall, this large building is a boardinghouse in which some of the main characters reside. The house has a large front porch, where people gather to talk. The house needs repairs and painting and sags on one end. Its interior symbolizes the psychological and emotional states of the characters; the huge house often feels empty to the people who dwell in it, just as the people frequently feel lonely and isolated even though they are surrounded by others. Mr. Singer, the character in whom the other characters confide, rents a room from the Kelleys.

Mr. Singer’s room

Mr. Singer’s room. This room is small and has minimal furniture. There is a closet in the room, where Singer keeps wine and snacks for his guests. Jake Blount lives with Singer in this room when he first arrives in town. Dr. Copeland, Jake Blount, Mick Kelley, and Biff Brannon frequent Singer’s room to confide in him. Singer’s room is symbolic of his role in the novel: His guests feel comfortable sitting in his small room and confiding their secrets to him.

New York Café

New York Café. Restaurant near the Kelley’s house where locals go to eat and socialize. The main characters of the novel frequent the café, which Biff Brannon owns. Providing a place for community members to visit with each other, the café is typical of restaurants in southern communities.

African American neighborhood

African American neighborhood. Section of the unnamed town in which the black community resides. In this section of town, very small houses, some as small as two rooms, house up to fourteen people. Dr. Copeland, the black physician, treats this community and serves as its leader. Descriptions of the residences of Copeland’s patients are important because they illustrate that the town is segregated. McCullers depicts the poverty and disease that plague the blacks in the novel. African Americans are denied decent jobs and are treated cruelly and unjustly by some of the white characters in the novel. The novel addresses racism by showing the unjust treatment of blacks. If the southern town is a microcosm of southern towns in the 1930’s, McCullers is showing racism in the South as a whole during the 1930’s.

BibliographyBloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical View: Carson McCullers. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. An introduction to McCullers’ major works and a group of critical essays focused on various texts, including Lawrence Graves’s “Penumbral Insistence: McCullers’s Early Novels.”Carr, Virginia Spencer. The Lonely Hunter: A Biography of Carson McCullers. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press, 1976. A biography, an important companion to McCullers’ fictional works, demonstrating the connections between the author’s life and experiences and her fictional themes and images.Carr, Virginia Spencer. Understanding Carson McCullers. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990. A critical edition of Carson McCullers’ major works, including a section devoted to The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.Evans, Oliver. The Ballad of Carson McCullers. New York: Coward-McCann, 1965. Evans’ intimate biography draws upon his long friendship with Carson McCullers. In addition to the facts of the author’s life, the author presents a critical analysis of McCullers’ novels. Contains the first published “Author’s Outline” of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.McCullers, Carson. The Mortgaged Heart. Edited by Margarita G. Smith. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971. This book contains a selection of McCullers’ short stories, essays, and poetry that were unpublished at the time of her death in 1967. Her essay “Loneliness . . . an American Malady” provides a comment that elucidates her vision of love and loneliness.McDowell, Margaret B. Carson McCullers. Boston: Twayne, 1980. One of the important book-length critical examinations of McCullers’ texts.Walker, Sue. “Play Precious Play: Carson McCullers, Transition Music.” The New Laurel Review 12 (1982): 31-36. This article shows how McCullers’ early musical training became a part of her fiction as metaphor, symbol, structure, and form and as a psychological bridge that spanned the gap between self and other, between the need for love and the attempt to resolve its loneliness. Provides a reading of McCullers in the light of noted British psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott’s theory of the transitional phenomenon as the first attachment of the child.Westling, Louise. “Carson McCullers’s Tomboys.” Southern Humanities Review 4 (1982): 339-350. One of the several good analyses of McCullers’ characterizations of adolescent girls.
Categories: Places