The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
by Carson McCullers
There's a major emphasis on the total person in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, both in body and mind. As a result, we get highly realistic and detailed information about human bodies, just as we get deep insight into the minds of our characters.
A character's physical appearance often determines how other people treat them and, in turn, how that character sees him or herself. The onset of puberty throws Mick's world into turmoil and changes how she views herself. Biff's careful hygiene routine reveals a strong awareness of his body. Jake's fairly unattractive appearance further alienates him and fuels his own manic behavior. And the color of Doctor Copeland's skin is one of the central facets of his life, making him a victim of prejudice and inspiring him to become a community leader.
Did you notice any other examples of physical appearance being used to characterize one of our protagonists?
Thoughts and Opinions
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is largely a novel of ideas, told via realistic detail, dialect, and internal thoughts. But don't get us wrong: this isn't just the highfalutin stuff. In this novel, the average Joe's ideas are never divorced from high philosophy; the two go hand in hand. Any and all thoughts count here, regardless of how profound they are. As a result, every character in this novel is characterized as a thoughtful and thinking individual.
You are where you live – at least in this novel. Mick's crowded boarding house, the New York Café, Blount's cellar room, and Copeland's austere home all reflect and influence the people who inhabit them. In fact, these characters are so defined by their locations that they often seem out of place in other place. Think about the one and only time Doctor Copeland entered the New York Café – you with us?
Singer's room is pretty much the only place where the main four can be themselves. We can't say we're surprised, given how much soul searching they all seem to do there.
If society is our antagonist, then it's pretty fair to say that social status is a major tool of characterization. All of the main characters suffer from some degree of poverty and lower class stigma. And if you think about it, most of Mick's major decisions near the end of the novel revolve around money, or a lack thereof. Race is of course another huge social status issue: it defines Copeland's life and helps us understand each of these characters' place in the Jim Crow South.