Solving for X without a Why

One of the highest compliments that can be paid a novel is to puzzle over it after it’s been read. If that’s the measure of a story’s worth, then The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a splendidly rich one, indeed. For well over a month now, I’ve puzzled over this sad grim melancholy story, its figures of speech and mental atmosphere, its characters and themes, mainly its themes, in particular McCuller’s idea of alienation and its root causes.

Unlike Marx, her fiction strongly suggests that self-alienation and alienation from others is an inescapable feature of life, no matter what social system you’re in. Something there is that definitely wants a wall, between one’s self and one’s “strong true purpose,” between one person and another.

That’s just the human condition, or so the phrase goes.

Solving for X without a Why

To be a character in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is to lack meaning and purpose.

The thin mute John Singer fails to find a Why in friendship. Biff Brannon fails to find a Why in his connection with and understanding of others. Jake Blount fails to find a Why in his gospel of revolution. Dr. Copeland fails to find a Why in his antipathy toward white insolence and the cult of Christian meekness. And Mick, a 12-year old girl, fails to find a Why in her love of music.

Although each character has interests and concerns, they’re not stable enough to support a larger purpose that endures over time. And so characters wander aimlessly, like busted formulas that don’t make sense, and bump into each other with often violent and painful results.

In my next two posts, I’ll say something about Mick’s love of music and the complete and utter lack of connection between isolated people, even when they throng in cafés or at a carnivals.

4 Responses to Solving for X without a Why

  1. Kinna says:

    I’m touched by your thoughts on the book. Perhaps because so many of us lack “meaning and purpose”, and not for want of trying. This state of being is treated often as an affliction — I had to steel myself from using the word suffer in place of lack. Looking forward to more of your thoughts.

  2. Thank you, Kinna. Very grateful for your atta-boy. Best!

  3. Kat says:

    I very much liked The Member of the Wedding, which I reread a few years ago. McCullers is one of those tough women writers who relentlessly make us look at reality. I do vaguely remember scenes in The Heart Is the Lonely Hunter of the obese deaf man eating while his friend talked with his hands. So much desperation.

    I’ll look forward to reading your next post on this.

  4. […] to deliver on a promise, delayed as it might be. One last quick post on The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Emphasis on quick. […]

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