Oprah's Thoughts on Part Two of The Heart Is a Lonely
May 25, 2004
To all my "heart-filled" reading friends!
We're delving deep into the yearnings of each lonely heart…and deeper into the desperate sadness of the Depression Era South, as we make our way through Part Two of Carson McCullers' quietly stormy novel. Each character takes us through his or her season of struggle, yearning and change. We begin with glimpses of sweetness and hope, but even in its most hopeful moments, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter foretells strife beneath the surface.
For Mick, the summer is filled with promise. She defiantly walks around the neighborhood at night, unafraid to be alone, drawn to houses where music floats through open windows. She is so overpowered by the music she hears that "it made her think of God strutting in the night." Yet she cannot connect with the sublime. When she thinks of God, "she could only see Mister Singer with a long sheet around him." (p. 119) Despite her longing, "God was silent." In her loneliness and passion, Mick feels a "fiery hurt" that will follow her throughout the story.
Summer rolls into fall and Biff loses his wife Alice. Numb and shut down, at first he feels little grief. But the small details of his wife's life—the smell of her perfume, her lemon hair scent—begin to awaken a deep longing that many of McCullers' "lonely hearts" feel: "What did he understand? Nothing. Where was he headed? Nowhere. What did he want? To know. What? A meaning. Why? A riddle." (p. 237) The questions abound.
More than anyone, the mute Singer embodies the brooding restlessness of this novel. Without his deaf friend Antonapoulus, to "talk" to, Singer's "lonely hands" start talking in his sleep. He walks for miles at night to occupy his time, passing out his card to strangers he meets. His late night walks fuel new speculation about who he is, and as fall becomes winter, the rumors grow ever bolder. The rich claim he is rich, the poor that he is poor, "each man described the mute as he wished him to be." (p. 223) In a town where people are cold, hungry and sick, Singer gives them something to believe in. He seems to be the "answer" to their prayers.
The sad irony is that Singer is as desperate and alone as anyone in the novel. Our hearts go out to him as he writes, but never sends, his letters to Antonapoulos. He longs for his friend as passionately as Mick, Dr. Copeland, Blount and Biff yearn to connect with him. "The way I need you is a loneliness I cannot bear," he writes. "I am not meant to be alone and without you who understand." (p. 217) Singer romanticizes his memories of Antonapoulos and in the end, just like the others, he yearns for someone who doesn't really exist.
Each lonely heart is hunting for meaning and love. And we feel the pain of each of their struggles. As the winter months become spring and summer, Mick's awkward adolescence leads to a desperate moment of love with Harry. The fierceness of racism and poverty grip us as Dr. Copeland's son Willie is tortured and broken by his evil, ignorant jailers. Mick's family seems to succumb to the despair of their daily battles with poverty and sickness. And just when it seems that Jake Blount and Dr. Copeland share some dreams and ideals—they utterly fail to come together.
Even Singer, who seems to stand apart, ultimately comes to the center of his own storm. In the haunting final pages of Part Two, Singer finds out that Antonapoulos—the friend he has given all of his heart to and put all of his faith in—is dead. He is strangled with anguish, totally bereft… Shattered, Singer returns home. Silently and meticulously, he puts a bullet in his chest. His pain and loneliness is too great to bear.
Can this town of restless souls deal with all its loss and heartache? Will the novel descend into despair—or will hope arise out of the pain and struggle McCullers has crafted? Keep reading!
Carson In Her Own Words She was the literary darling of her generation. From the books she kept close to her bedside to the authors she kept close to her heart, now you can explore her literary and private life in her own words, on video and through personal photos. Delve into the life and times of Carson McCullers.
Printed from Oprah.com on Monday, December 9, 2013