Book reviews

Carson McCullers’ The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (Bantam, 1967; originally published 1940)

Dead white lesbian novel has distorted male friendships, race, and teen sex all in a day’s read.

Since students are smart enough to see teachers’ and professors’ leftist leanings, high school and college faculty can recommend this novel for a variety of reasons, consistent with major literary theories dominant in academic circles, even though those theories often are anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, anti-American, and anti-Western values.

McCullers’ novel can be read through the lenses of many literary theories.  A biographical critic can easily see how the main character, Mick Kelly, is McCullers herself: tom-boy, vows never to marry (“I never will marry with any boy”; 236, emphasis added), late to coming to her female sexuality, etc.  A Marxist critic can delight in the numerous passages where political ideas babble their way through the narrative.  Marxist ideas are uttered by the African-American Doctor Copeland, who espouses the birth control programs (what he euphemistically calls “Eugenic Parenthood for the Negro Race”), which come from racist groups like Planned Parenthood (63) and the white Jake Blount, who admits he is a “Red”, a Communist (134ff and 243).  A feminist or queer gender studies critic will find the usual oppression of women by heteropatriarchy blah blah blah in the depiction of the female characters, especially Portia, Doctor Copeland’s daughter.  A disabilities studies critic would delight in reading the passages where Mr. Singer, the deaf mute, reigns supreme as a stalwart and honest character.  Why he commits suicide at novel’s end would create a delightful term paper for any student.  Finally, a critical race theory (blackness studies, whiteness studies, and so on) critic could point to this novel as evidence of that hated satan, America, always having been a racist country and thus argue that Antifa and Black Lives Matter are justified in promoting their brand of domestic terrorism, racial bigotry, destruction of property, killing of police, blah blah blah.  (No wonder hardworking Democrats are rejecting their party and voting for the law and order candidate, President Trump!)

What I find most compelling, though, is that this novel (which is more character depiction than action) admirably illustrates how the five questions of right-to-life literary theory can be used to better appreciate the novel.

1. Does the literary work support the perspective that human life is, in the philosophical sense, a good, some “thing” which is priceless?

There is no evidence that any character thinks this about their own lives or the lives of others. While such a respect for human life need not be explicitly stated, it should be evident.  I do not see these characters manifesting this philosophical good at all; they just live from hour to hour, day by day, month by month, in their feeble existences of racial segregation and declining financial conditions.  What a drab existence!

2. Does the literary work respect the individual as a being with inherent rights, the paramount one being the right to life?

If the characters do not perceive that the existence of humanity is itself good, then how can they love the individual persons who constitute humanity?  With the possible exceptions of Mr. Singer and Biff Brannon, I see no evidence of respect for individual human beings throughout the novel.  Instead, characters use each other for their own selfish needs, as though a fellow human being is one’s property instead of a coworker in God’s creation.

3. If the literary work covers the actions of a family, does it do so respecting heterosexual normativity and the integrity of the family?

It is interesting that McCullers, who was involved in many lesbian relationships, depicted faulty heterosexual marriages well—faulty, because the couples obviously did not understand the purposes of marriage as involving a husband who loves his wife and a wife who loves her husband, both of them being open to new life and nurturing children.  Furthermore, the word “queer” itself is repeated frequently in the novel and is used often in connection with the male friendships of Mr. Singer and Spiros Antonapoulos (184ff and 276ff) and Mr. Brannon and Jake (294ff).  Maybe these same-sex friendships were McCullers’ way to presage a future gay literary work as a means to resolve her own sexual confusion—more evidence that the novel (or McCullers herself) does not respect heterosexual normativity.

4. Does the literary work comport with the view that unborn, newborn, and mature human life has an inherent right to exist?

There are no abortion and infanticide episodes in the novel, but the sex scene between Harry and Mick suggests that, if Mick were to become pregnant by their one act of intercourse, he thinks they should marry, itself a faulty reason to enter into the sacrament of matrimony.  Specifically, if she did not send him an “OK” message a month after their fornication (he demands that she “write and tell me for sure whether you’re all right”; 236), the presumption, of course, is that being pregnant would not be “all right.”  (A contemporary reader might exclaim in exasperation, “Duh!  How stupid can Harry be?  A man has sex with a woman.  What do you think could result, fool?”)  Also, throughout this racially-classified novel, the persons who are most disrespected, of course, are the “Negroes”, both professionals like Doctor Copeland and servants like his daughter Portia.  Contemporary readers would find the passage where the terms “Negro”, “colored”, and “nigger” are discussed most interesting since it has implications for today’s rap music (66).

5. When they are faced with their mortality, do the characters come to a realization that there is a divine presence in the world which justifies a life-affirming perspective?

Want to read how ignorant some people can be about Jews and Catholics?  Read pages 138-39 to laugh at their bigotry or sheer ignorance.  I guess their words must be taken with a proverbial grain of salt since the people uttering these stupidities are children in the Deep South circa the late 1930s.  It is unfortunate that such bigoted opinions still exist today.  Moreover, to the point of this last question of right-to-life literary theory, no character has an extensive religious purpose for his or her own life.  Even Doctor Copeland, who constantly refers to a “strong true purpose” (for example, page 119), rejects religious truth.

If you want a good read, try this blast from the past, which surprisingly addresses current political issues well.  You won’t find any answers to those issues, but the characters will make you appreciate people (pro-lifers and Republicans) who reject racism and the distortion of male friendships into sexualized alliances and who live the philosophy that people are to be respected and not used for selfish gratification.

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