LITERATURE: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Character on Character

Carson McCullers tells a great story.   Mr. Singer, the mute, has lost his longtime friend and is faring well enough on his own, but we are getting a strong sense of loneliness, and McCullers, with the backdrop of a tavern complete with understanding barkeeper and obnoxious drunk, leads us subtly into a new group of characters and a new direction for Singer.

One of the tools she uses to give us a closer look beyond the action and interaction of the players is narrator omniscience, getting into one head to give us an opinion of another’s.  This, from the barkeeper (Biff), after Blount, the drunk, has been dumped back in their care and Singer is going to take him home with him for the rest of the night, but first they make him eat something:

The steam from the soup kept floating up into Blount’s face, and after a little while he reached shakily for his spoon.  He drank the soup and ate part of his dessert.  His thick, heavy lips still trembled and he bowed his head far down over his plate.

Biff noted this.  He was thinking that in nearly every person there was some special physical part kept always guarded.  With the mute his hands.  The kid Mick picked at the front of her blouse to keep the cloth from rubbing the new, tender nipples beginning to come out on her breast.  With Alice it was her hair; she used never to let him sleep with her when he rubbed oil in his scalp.  And with himself?  (p. 23)

McCullers wrote this novel at a very young age and yet she must have spent all of those years watching people.  It shows in her writing.

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