"Every evening the mute walked alone for hours in the street. His agitation gave way gradually to exhaustion and there was a look about him of deep calm. In his face there came to be a brooding peace that is seen most often in the faces of the very sorrowful or the very wise. But still he wandered through the streets of the town, always silent and alone." — from The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
As the first part of McCullers' novel unfolds, the narrator takes us on a journey to introduce the unique cast of characters whose fates become linked by proximity, time and fate. Outwardly, they have little in common. Singer is deaf and mute, cut off from the rest of the world by his physical circumstances. Jake Blount is an obnoxious, loudmouthed, wayward drunkard. Biff Brannon is a barkeep in a loveless marriage. Mick Kelly is a young girl with a great deal of moxie. Benedict Mady Copeland is a black doctor with high ideals for himself and even higher goals for his race. None of these characters share core characteristics or run in the same "crowd," nor are they philosophically aligned in any way.
Yet as soon as we meet them all, it is clear that they have something very fundamental in common. They are lonely. Their lives are punctuated by silence and a sense that for whatever reason, their souls have slipped outside of the fold. They are weeds that have sprouted on the other side of an invisible fence, and it is a fence that stands between them and their community—keeping them from feeling love, acceptance, comfort or happiness.
Singer has a friend in fellow deaf-mute Antonapoulos, but "the two mutes had no other friends, and except when they worked they were alone together." (p. 6) When Mick comes into Biff's restaurant, he asks her if she's been to the Girl Scouts. She says "No. I don't belong to them." (p. 18) In one of his drunken rages, Jake characterizes himself as "...one who knows. I'm a stranger in a strange land." (p. 23) After a stereotypical fight with his wife, Biff finds himself, "...sorry he had talked to Alice. With her, silence is better." (p. 15) Dr. Benedict Mady Copeland—despite being a respected and busy doctor—finds himself, "Far from the main street, in one of the Negro sections of the town, Doctor Benedict Mady Copeland sat in his dark kitchen alone." (p. 70)
There is more than just loneliness that unites these characters. What brings them together so strongly, so clearly, is self-imposed isolation and solitude. All around them buzz the lives of others—many of whom they could find much in common with. Instead, when we meet them, they appear to find their only comfort in quiet moments outside the bustle of society. These quiet, stoic wrinkles in time define Mick and Jake and Biff and Benedict. To this fertile ground comes Singer, the ultimate loner. How will a host of solitary souls be reshaped by Singer's friendship? Read on.
Discover more about this town full of 'lonely hunters' with a map of characters.