The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter: Questions & Answers
In the outline she wrote for the book she originally titled The Mute (in her unfinished autobiography Illumination and Night Glare), Carson says, "In the last few pages the various motifs which have been recurring from time to time throughout the book are drawn sharply together and the work ends with a sense of cohesive finality." In this book that eventually became The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, this exact thing comes to pass. The final portion of the novel, taking up a scant 30 pages, puts a crescendo on each of the main themes and each character's journey. Music also makes its way throughout the pages. The writing, while plain and uncomplicated, has a lot of lyricism and rhythm to it. When reading over paragraphs, you can almost hear the tune the words could be set to in your head.
As a student of music for a great deal of her young life, Carson shares many traits with her female protagonist Mick—especially the "inside room" that music affords both the author and her character. In this "inside room," Mick, in spite of her impoverished conditions, is drawn to music and finds ways to listen to it frequently in the course of her story. Carson played music, wrote music, appreciated music and also decided to frame The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter in relation to music in distinct ways.
The structure of the novel follows the same structure as a musical Fugue. The key defining feature of a Fugue is that one or more musical themes are repeated and illuminated by successively entering "voices" (in most cases instruments). The final movement of a Fugue, which is traditionally three parts, usually includes a resolution of each theme.
This book is like a Fugue in many respects. Part One provides an introduction to each "voice" as we learn each of the five characters' individual circumstances and their unifying circumstance of loneliness and isolation. Part Two includes a journey taken by each "voice" to resolve the conflict they have within themselves and with their society—a journey that is ultimately futile in each case (in keeping with the genre of the work). Part Three gives a strong, truthful resolution, along with a recap on the initial theme that bound the characters together in the first place—solitude.
Well-known musical Fugues written by Bach, Handel, Pucell, and others take us on a very meaningful journey towards understanding the complex relationship between instruments and the song they are trying to sing. Carson McCullers' Fugue depicts the complex relationship between people and the lives they are trying to lead. Like an orchestra's conductor Carson builds the final movement until she holds Biff suspended over a vision of humanity and love, one eye looking into the future and one eye into the past. And then in one masterful flick of her wrist, the story ends and the instruments are lowered. But the music still resonates in our hearts.
Finished with the book? Take our final quiz!
Dive into each of the main characters' journeys.