For all of its quiet and loneliness, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is also a surprisingly violent book—and the violence sneaks up in ways you wouldn't expect. When we are introduced to Mick's favorite brother Bubber as a snot-nosed seven-year-old being pulled along in a wagon, you'd never imagine that later in the story he will shoot and maim Baby and then try to flee his hometown. The corruption of Bubber's innocence seems to come out of the blue.

Similarly, Singer's suicide crops up out of nowhere. While we know he's unhappy and lost, it doesn't seem possible that he will take his life swiftly with a pistol. This action is in stark relief of what we know about Singer, as well. Like Bubber, he is introduced and developed as a sympathetic and innocent character—one we grow to assume good things of.

Like many other towns in southern gothic stories, the setting of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter also has violent undertones. Much of the racial tension seems poised to erupt at any moment. Jake Blount and Doctor Copeland are generally angry men, and seem as though they could be on the verge of violence at every turn. After Singer's death, Doctor Copeland thinks, "During the past month the black, terrible feelings had arisen again to wrestle with his spirit." (p. 333)

In the end what is typical of this genre is what comes to pass. It is just the characters we don't expect to be wrapped up in violence—Bubber, Singer and Willie—who are, and that is part of its tragedy. Not even the most positive characters are safe from the violence that runs through these dusty southern towns like a raging river.

Freakishness | Imprisonment | Sense of Place  


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