The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter: Questions & Answers
2. Think about Mick's love of music. How is music used throughout the book—to evoke a mood, to punctuate certain paragraphs, or to convey an idea or underlying theme?
3. Discuss Biff's views of Alice and how they are different from his views of her sister Lucile. Also, think about how Biff handles his wife's illness. How is the breakdown of their marriage reminiscent of Alice's sickness?
4. Talk about the many ways religion is used throughout the text.
5. Discuss Doctor Copeland's strange relationship with the town. What do you understand about his views of society? As a symbol of the African-American race, what statement do you feel the author is trying to make about race relations in the South?
6. What do you think about Portia as a character? How do you feel about the way she handles her relationship with her father? Do you feel she's a strong woman, and if so, why?
7. Put together a list of descriptors of the Georgia town that serves as a backdrop for the novel. Talk about what you know about the town from the people who live there.
8. What do you think about Singer's devotion to his friendship with Antonapoulos?
9. Singer comes to represent God—or a deified presence—for each of the other characters in the book: "each man described the mute as he wished him to be." (p. 223) Why?
10. Toward the end of Part Two, many of the situations the main characters find themselves in are dire. Nothing seems to be going well. Do you feel the author is writing an optimistic or pessimistic story at this point? If you had to guess at some resolution, what would it be?
Though Mick is an adolescent whose ideas about God and religion are not fully formed, she voices a feeling that even the adult characters in the novel seem struck with again and again. She says that Singer is "a wise man, and he [understands] the strong true purpose." (p. 135) In many ways, Singer becomes a unlikely confessor for all the lonely hearts in the novel—someone they can trust with their darkest secrets in a way they would have trusted the Priest if they were churchgoers.
Not only does Mick hit upon a truth about the way Singer makes she and the others feel, she also voices an interesting truth about her time and place. She says on page 119 that "Everybody ... knew there wasn't any real God." We aren't told who this "everybody" is, but that makes it easy to surmise that "everybody" could truly be everyone Mick Kelly knows. She and her town are living through a period of the worst poverty in American history...and are looking for an attainable "savoir."
Though only Blount is down and out, living hand to mouth—mostly by his own doing—none of the characters we meet in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter are doing particularly well. In addition to what we learn of their personal isolation, we are also privy to the destitution of the Great Depression as seen through their eyes. In every nook and cranny of the town, people are suffering. The Kelly family is forced to open their home to boarders, with 14 people under one roof. Doctor Copeland doesn't charge his patients. Jake's friends steal to buy themselves "Saturday suppers." (p. 156) Everyone is in dire straights—and it both brings them together and tears them apart.
The circumstances in this book grow out of a very specific time and place. Each character is both a product of it and reacting to it. Often in what is considered the darkest hour, people reach out for the light. In The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Singer is that light for an entire town, the hope of something good. Through his interactions with Doctor Copeland, Mick, Blount and Biff, he grows into something of a legend, a beacon: "The rumors about him grew bolder. ... Each man described the mute as he wished him to be." (p. 223)
In this dark hour—when racial tensions tear at the fabric of the South, destitute poverty is rampant, illness is incurable, education and culture a distant afterthought, a world of people look for the presence of God. Because of his silence and gravity, Singer comes closer than anyone to giving that feeling of hope. What will it cost him, and everyone? Read on.
As the relationship between Singer and his four confidants, Jake, Biff, Mick and Doctor Copeland, blossoms in the early section of Part Two, it's hard not to feel excited by the connection Singer makes with each one. Mick comes away from Singer's rooms heard, and the others feel the same. For this host of lonely people, there seems hope that they can find comfort in each other. For Singer, who has lost his best friend to insanity, his new stature in the town would appear to be a blessing. Once, he was an outcast—little recognized or understood. As the novel progresses, Singer becomes something of a known personality. It would be easy to assume that his friendship with each person, in turn, would lead to a clique developing—a "lonely hunters" club, of sorts.
Instead, when all four of Singer's friends come by at the same time, it's an awkward disaster: "Singer moved around the room with smiles and refreshments and did his best in the way of politeness to make his guests comfortable. But something was wrong." (p. 210) Rather than join up together in some sort of camaraderie, "Singer is bewildered" by the fact that these people who normally have "so much to say" are completely silent when together.
We also learn that while developing friendships might seem like a positive thing for Singer to do, it's actually very difficult for him. He professes on several occasions not to understand what these people want from him or why they behave as they do. Rather than seek comfort in his new community, Singer sinks deeper and deeper into a longing for his first, and as it turns out only friend, Antonapoulos. "This submerged communion with Antonapoulos had grown and changed as though they were together in the flesh." (p. 322) Singer thinks of Antonopoulos "always with love unchecked by criticism, freed of will." All the emotion he might hope to feel for the other people, he appropriates to his relationship with his mute friend instead. The very act of others reaching out to him—which might have seemed a good thing in the beginning—eventually results in Singer's mortal wound.
Readers may be wondering: Why do none of these characters embrace friendship when given the chance? Mick, Jake, Biff and the Doctor may come to Singer's room but they neither truly befriend him, nor each other. The loneliness that pervades their interactions at the beginning is the state in which they remain. In all of their "hunting," their hearts haven't changed. How does a "sensible man" (p. 359) reconcile his life? Read Carson's bittersweet finale, and find out!
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Discover more about this town full of 'lonely hunters' with a map of characters.