The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Pretty poetic title, right? Well, that's because it comes from a poem: "The Lonely Hunter" by Fiona MacLeod, a.k.a. William Sharp. (Yep, this guy wrote as a lady). Let's take a look at a few lines:
What are all songs for me, now, who no more care to sing?
Deep in the heart of Summer, sweet is life to me still,
But my heart is a lonely hunter that hunts on a lonely hill.
Green is that hill and lonely, set far in a shadowy place;
White is the hunter's quarry, a lost-loved human face:
O hunting heart, shall you find it, with arrow of failing breath,
Led o'er a green hill lonely by the shadowy hound of Death?
We're pretty sure McCullers didn't just lift a line form this poem without good reason. As it turns out, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter also takes some major themes and ideas from the poem: the importance of music, the idea of a "lost-loved human face," and themes of isolation and death. This definitely isn't an upbeat novel, and the title indicates just that. At least there's no false advertising.
And since it's one of the words in the title, we should probably take a look at the idea of the hunter. Let' see: if we're all hunters, what is the prey? In the novel, it isn't just a "lost-loved human face." Instead, it's ideas, values, and even other people. The heart is a selfish thing, and, in the world of this novel, the heart wants just about everything. The characters are constantly on the hunt for the things they desire, and they always hunt alone.