If you're stumped by something that happens in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter , there's no need to feel like Biff Brannon, constantly asking yourself, "Why?" Our literary guide Virginia Spencer Carr has a great answer!

Oprah.com member carterss writes: "I do not understand the Karl Marx issue. Is Portia's brother really named Karl Marx or is that a nickname? Also, her dad is said to read books by him and so is another character. Do you have any idea what the author had in mind by referencing Marx?"

Virginia Spencer Carr responds: "The 'Karl Marx' issue that you raised is important to our understanding of both Doctor Copeland and Jake Blount and is a major concern of the novel. … In the novel, Doctor Benedict Mady Copeland, a proud black physician who was educated in the North and returned to the South, is thwarted at every turn. He had named his first son Karl Marx and his second son, Hamilton, after Alexander Hamilton, a great American statesman, but they lack his zeal and have no background for what he expects of them, nor do his two younger children, Portia and William.

"Similarly, Jake Blount, a fanatical carnival worker whose dreams mirror his frustration, is obsessed by a desire for social justice and equality. He hates the inequities in the working conditions of the victimized mill workers whom he tries to incite to strike for higher wages and better working conditions, but his powerlessness is confirmed by their indifference and hostility. Neither Jake nor Copeland can communicate with John Singer, and they cannot recognize Singer's limitations as an extension of their own."

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Born Lula Carson Smith, she was an artist who lived hard, died young, and left a wonderful legacy. And her first novel is only slightly more legendary than her tumultuous life. See what makes Carson McCullers one of the most fascinating writers of her generation. Explore Carson's literary life.


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