Discussion Questions for Part One, Pages 1-94
1. In picking up this book for the first time, with its very poignant title and a serious photo of the author on the cover, what do you expect from it? Talk about your initial impressions, what you had heard about the book, or other things you knew about the novel prior to starting the first chapter.
2. The first chapter paints a vivid portrait of the friendship between Singer and Antonapoulos. How do you feel about each of these characters from the beginning? How do the men seem similar, other than the fact they are both deaf-mutes? What do you feel the friendship brings Singer in particular?
3. In meeting Biff Brannon in chapter two, what can you tell immediately about his relationship with his wife? Describe what interests you about him as a character and about the New York Café as a place.
4. Analyze the things Jake Blount says in the first part of the book. What do we know about him from his dialogue with others? What is your initial impression of him?
5. In chapter three, the details of Mick's life are laid out very carefully. How do you interpret her interest in Singer? Do you think his quiet nature relates to Mick's interest in music or her need for a place to listen to it in her own head?
6. What can you tell about the environment of the Kelly household from the initial information you are given by the author?
7. Choose five adjectives to describe Doctor Benedict Mady Copeland. How does he appear to be an outsider in his own community? What do you think about his decision to return to the South after having been educated as a doctor in the North?
8. Each of the characters you meet in the first part of the novel seems estranged from the community in some way. Describe in what ways their estrangements are similar, and also in what ways they differ.
9. Which character do you like the most or feel the closest to? Who does the narrator seem partial to, if anyone?
10. Discuss the narration. What is consistent about the voice throughout this first part of the novel? How are the details about places and people described, and what do you like or dislike about the descriptions? How does the point of view contribute to the overall feeling of the novel? Misfits Every One: Pages 1-94 "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.
The relationships at the end of Part One are entirely unexpected given what we know of the main characters up to this point. We know that they are lonely creatures that consider themselves outside society's grasp. Whether their emotions boil over with rage (like Jake), superiority (like Doctor Copeland), resignation (like Biff) or insecure longing (like Mick), these people have rejected their community, and chosen instead to stand outside of it.
But then, they become friends with Singer. Why do these outsiders come back again and again to Singer's room? You can't help but wonder how it ever happened in the first place. Suddenly, these loners, Jake and Biff and Mick and Benedict, find themselves needing Singer, desirous of his company, compelled to reach out to him, friendly despite themselves. Why all of a sudden do they want to hear themselves speak or need the look of kindness in Singer's eyes? They are transformed by his presence.
A confluence of events has changed Singer's position in this society. As the book opens, the deaf-mute has been living in town for ten years, content to spend his days catering to his oblivious friend Antonapoulos. In this we learn that Singer has much of himself to give. Despite the fact that Antonapoulos rarely speaks to Singer and becomes increasingly hostile as his personality destabilizes, Singer has the loyalty of a dog to his master. It is only when Antonapoulos is institutionalized after several nasty episodes that Singer resigns himself to life without his friend—and still he takes all his free time to visit Antonapoulos in the asylum.
Does Singer do this because he is particularly fond of Antonapoulos? It is unlikely since the Greek is characterized as a distinctly unlikable person. Instead, this implies how much Singer wishes to be a friend and have a friend. Once he moves into the Kelly house, this same energy flows off him. He becomes no less than a magnet for other dispossessed people. Singer desires to be a friend, to have a friend and suddenly, "by midsummer, Singer had visitors more often than any other person in the house." (p. 90) Singer is the only one of the main characters who is repeatedly described by his eyes, which are "quick and intelligent," "gentle as a cat's" and "grave as a sorcerer's," and his smile, which Mick waits for and Jake notices whenever they spend time together.
Could the very act of looking friendly have drawn out otherwise solitary people—like moths to a flame? When you think about it, there couldn't really be any other explanation. By Singer's example, other lonely hearts are inspired to be a friend and have a friend.