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In The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, there are people who are actually in jail and others who feel as though their hearts are jailed by circumstance. No one feels free in this small town in Georgia, and even when some of the characters try to escape, it comes to no good.

Willie Copeland goes to jail—and is tortured when he gets there. Antonapoulos, whose friend Singer was willing to take care of him despite his fits of rage, is packed off to the insane asylum by his cousin and dies there. Mick is trapped in an unfortunate web of poverty and small town mores that makes her feel as though she has no way out. Bubber, who runs away because he fears he will be sent to jail for shooting Baby, is picked up on the highway and physically held in the car on the way back into town. Doctor Copeland is trapped in a culture that doesn't respect his values or his point of view, and a town that ultimately wants to keep everyone of his race imprisoned as their birthright. What is perhaps even more difficult to accept is that as each character's journey unfolds, they come closer to a state of imprisonment rather than moving further away from it. This is one of the most obvious dark sides of southern gothic—the sense of imprisonment and isolation never really abates.

As for Singer, the main character, the imprisonment takes place in his head. Trapped by his inability to communicate, he feels as though he has been "left in an alien land. Alone. He had opened his eyes and around him there was much he could not understand. He was bewildered." (p. 204) This feeling never leaves him, and grows more and more dire as his journey comes to fruition. And though none of the other main characters suffer from his disability, their lack of connection puts them in a prison not entirely different than Singer's own.

Freakishness | Violence | Sense of Place

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