Study Guide

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

By Carson McCullers

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter Introduction

Carson McCullers makes us feel like slackers. She wrote and published her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter in 1940, when she was twenty-three years old. Yeah. What have you done today?

The novel was a breakout hit and jump-started McCullers' extremely successful literary career. Over the next twenty-ish years, she wrote novels, short stories, plays, reviews, articles, poems, and even Hollywood scripts. In case you weren't impressed enough already, she did all of this while battling some severe health issues: McCullers suffered a series of strokes while she was very young, and she battled depression and substance abuse issues throughout her life. Top it off with a rollercoaster of a marriage that ended in her husband's suicide, and you've got yourself a tough life.

Carson McCullers was very much a Southern writer, and Hunter is very much a Southern gothic book. Basically, Southern gothic is a genre that mixes traditional gothic elements – mystery, suspense, anxiety, the grotesque, the supernatural – and plops it all down in the American South. It was a super popular genre, practiced by heavy-hitters like William Faulkner. To read more about the genre itself, check out the "Genre" section.

When McCullers published The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Southern gothic, and Southern literature in general, was on fire. People like Flannery O'Connor, Truman Capote, Eudora Welty, and Thornton Wilder were all publishing landmark works in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. And the Southern gothic craze extended to Hollywood, too – Faulkner and Tennessee Williams movie adaptations were all the rage in the 1950s and 1960s. McCullers got in on the movie adaptation craze too – The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter was made into a film in 1968 and was adapted for the stage in 2005.

Bottom line: McCullers' debut novel was part of a cool moment in American history, when a lot of literature challenged the status quo and took a look at the seedier side of life and the dark underbelly of the American dream. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is no exception, and while you might need some tissues – and a few deep breaths – this one is worth the tears.

What is The Heart is a Lonely Hunter About and Why Should I Care?

Let's take a second to think about the most important universal themes in literature:

  • Love
  • Death
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Race
  • Money
  • Friendship
  • Politics

That's some pretty hefty stuff right there, and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter has it all – and deep philosophical musings to boot! There's a reason English teachers will flip over the thematic content here, and we're guessing it's something you can get behind, too.

See, as specific as the setting is, this novel is pretty much timeless. Timeless in a downer kind of a way, of course. Everyone in this novel is lonely and searching for who they are. While we (hopefully) don't experience these things on as intense a level as the characters in the story, they're emotions that we all know. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter packs a huge emotional punch, and the powerful feelings it evokes really stay with you. Don't say we didn't warn you.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter Resources

Websites

Trust Oprah
Leave it to Oprah to have the best Hunter site on the web. Here, you'll get a comprehensive reader's guide and some really detailed information on McCullers, including her historical context, her famous friends, and her literary influences. Plus, more pictures than you can shake a stick at. Be prepared to spend lots of time here.

The Carson McCullers's Project
This is a fairly minimalist site with information on all of Carson's books, as well as lots of handy links.

Fancy Pants McCullers
Here you can find some cool articles on McCullers, including the low-down on a dinner party she threw where Marilyn Monroe was a guest.

Her Own Center
Check out the official page for the Carson McCullers center at Columbus State University in Columbus, GA, Carson's hometown. The center features a museum and plenty of other cool Carson-related things.

"Lunch with Carson"
Here's a cool article about Carson's epic lunch with Marilyn Monroe and Isak Denisen (the author of Out of Africa), among other things. The author is a big Carson fan, like us, so this is a very fun read.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter – the Band?
Yep, there's a Texas-based band named after Carson's book. And they're on Facebook.

Movie or TV Productions

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968)
This star-studded gem got numerous awards and nominations, including Oscar nods for Alan Arkin, who played Singer.

Historical Documents

Documenting the American South
This is a great online archive with primary resources on Southern history, culture, and literature. Get to know the world of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter a little better.

"Carson McCullers's Sure Aim at the Heart of Loneliness"
Here's an interesting Washington Post review of Hunter, published in 2004 as part of a series that takes another look at "forgotten" classics.

Video

Just So Theatrical
Check out this interview with theater guy Doug Hughes, who talks about <em>Hunter</em> as a stage play. Broadway musical, here we come!

Audio

Sing It, Reba!
In our opinion, this Reba McEntire song sounds way too upbeat to share a title with McCullers's book, but we'll leave it up to you to decide.

Thievery Corporation
This awesome indie rock group borrows their song's title (with an added contraction) from McCullers' debut book.

Images

Cover Girl
She made the cover of her own book. Not too shabby.

First Edition
Looks like an old-school movie poster, don't you think?

Pensively Pensive McCullers
How's this for a headshot?

Just for Fun
Our author definitely knew how to have some fun.

At Her Typewriter
A young Carson sitting at her typewriter, and not looking overly thrilled at being interrupted.