The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter | Study Guide

Carson McCullers

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The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter | Part 2, Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

This chapter focuses on Mick. It is summertime, and she is busy with her thoughts and plans as she ferries her little brothers around town in the wagon. The boys are good, especially Bubber, so she can leave them in the shade somewhere while she goes into the library or wanders around on her own with her thoughts and the songs constantly humming inside her.

At night after the kids are in bed, Mick is free, but sometimes her dad wants to spend time with her. One night in August when he calls her, she is in a hurry to get to a certain house by nine, but she goes to be with him in the front room where his workbench is. He had an accident the year before that broke his hip, and he can no longer work as a carpenter and painter. Instead he is trying to eke out a living fixing clocks and watches. On this night Mick suddenly realizes something about her father: he is a lonesome old man who just wants "to be close to one of his kids." This realization makes her feel older and pleased to be able to sit and talk to him so he doesn't feel like "he wasn't much real use to anybody."

Mick keeps a secret from everyone about what she does at night: she wanders the town in search of good radio music coming from the homes of people with open windows. She has found the best places to hear the radio shows she prefers, and she hides in the shrubbery outside the windows.

This story line breaks, and now Mick's focus is entirely on a party she has planned. The day of it has arrived, and she is busy checking the decorations and the food Portia is making, thinking about what to wear and do. Mick has planned the party only for people 13 to 15 years old and has stressed to the 20 who plan to come that it is to be a sophisticated affair. She bathes carefully and dresses in the fancy clothes her sisters have loaned her. She works hard to fix her hair and apply makeup. As a result she doesn't "feel like herself at all" and is excited for what "would be better than anything else in all her whole life—this party."

The excitement is high as guests begin to arrive and the process of signing up "prom cards" begins. Mick notices one boy in particular—her neighbor from across the street, Harry Minowitz, who looks different because he is not wearing his horn-rimmed glasses. He asks her for a "prom" and as they step out to walk around the block, she feels fine. Mick is already five feet six inches tall, but Harry is only a little shorter. After a little ways he stops to put his glasses on, and this seems to make him feel much more confident. He asks what she is humming and she identifies the tune as something by Mozart. Then they start talking about current events—specifically, his hatred of fascists.

After their trip around the block Mick is alarmed to see her party is quickly falling apart. The young children have crashed the party, and the mood has changed from one of sophistication to "a crazy house." Enraged, she goes to yell at the kids and send them home, but it is too late. Mick gives up and wholeheartedly joins the "wildest night she had ever seen." She leads the pack to a deep ditch down the block and jumps in. She hits a pipe and hurts herself and decides it is time for everyone to go home.

Late that night Mick goes to her favorite house for listening to music. She hears a Beethoven symphony and knows the music is her, "the real plain her." After hearing the whole thing, however, she decides it is actually "the whole world ... and there was not enough of her to listen." She is so overcome that she doesn't know what to do except to hit herself in the thigh until she cries, but it is not enough. She scrapes a handful of rocks back and forth on the ground until her hand bleeds and she can relax enough to stare up at the night sky as she plays the whole symphony through again in her mind. She falls asleep, waking up cold and damp from dew sometime in the night, then runs home as the music plays "loud and quick in her mind."

Analysis

This chapter is the "coming of age" part of the novel. Mick gains a great deal of new awareness during the summer, which is "different from any other time Mick could remember." She changes from a child into a young woman, most poignantly stated the night of her party: "She was too big to wear shorts any more after this. No more after this night. Not any more."

Her change is not just physical—she has grown "three and a fourth inches just in the last year," as she tells Harry—but is emotional and spiritual. Her newfound maturity allows her to see her father for the first time as a "real separate person" who perhaps now needs her more than she needs him. Her awakening consciousness leaves her feeling excited all the time and hating to lose out on living by sleeping. She is also gaining wisdom and self-confidence. She knows it is up to her to try to find her own "bunch" at Vocational, the high school she attends, which is why she plans the party. But what she learns from the party is that all of them are really just kids, none of them any more special than she is, and although she still won't belong to a group at school, this fact will make her feel less alone.

Yet this is not an easy time for Mick, as her anger at the end of the party suggests. Although she dresses herself up for the party, she does not feel like herself. She truly is not comfortable in her own skin as a young woman, which only increases her feelings of isolation and loneliness. She even resorts to self-mutilation that night as she tries to make herself feel more whole.

Mick's walk with Harry also helps situate the novel within a particular time and place: the rise of fascism abroad during the 1930s. Harry's perspective on fascism shows that he is educated and informed, yet he lacks some understanding of history. He asks Mick if Mozart is a fascist, which is on one level funny but on another a deeply ironic look at how even towns in the Deep South were affected by the changing geopolitics of the 1930s.

Mick's spiritual awakening is tied to her love for music. On the night she hears Beethoven's third symphony she realizes her place in the vast universe. It is too much for her to take in, "the worst hurt there could be," so she must bring herself physically back down to the earth and her own body. The phrase "Lord forgiveth me, for I knoweth not what I do" runs through her mind. But now her conception of God has changed. Now she thinks of God as "Mister Singer with a long, white sheet around him...silent." The beauty of what she has experienced is in her ability to remember all the notes of the music she hears, and it is always with her.

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