The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter | Study Guide

Carson McCullers

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The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter | Part 2, Chapter 11 | Summary

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Summary

A month later Mick is having trouble sleeping on the couch. Etta is sick, so Mick has been ousted from her bedroom. Etta needs to have an ovary removed, but the family doesn't have the money. Finally Mick gets in bed with George and is able to sleep quite late in the morning. Restless, she goes outside. It is a hot day, and she and Harry decide they will ride bikes the next day to a nice swimming hole she knows about in the country.

They leave early in the morning. Both have food for a picnic dinner, and they stop along the way to buy cold beers to drink. When they reach the stream in the woods they decide to eat half of the food, go swimming, and then eat the rest.

Mick's secret is that she doesn't even know how to swim, but she bluffs her way through it and quickly gets comfortable enough in the water to move in and out playing follow the leader. After a couple of hours Mick suggests that they swim naked, but once their suits are off they quickly decide to get dressed and eat.

Harry tells Mick she is pretty and suggests they lie down together on a soft bed he makes on the ground. They talk a while and then quite suddenly they have sex. Mick doesn't like it. Afterward Harry says they must talk about what has happened. He tells her he must leave town so his mother won't find out. He will send Mick his address so she can write him once she is sure she is not pregnant: "All you need to write is 'O.K.' and then I'll know." They walk their bikes home, arriving there after dark. They shake hands, and then Harry is gone.

At her house no one notices Mick. She thinks it is strange that they don't see she has changed. Later, when Mrs. Minowitz calls to see if she knows where Harry is, she responds simply: "No, ma'am."

Analysis

It's hard to know how Mick feels about Harry running away from what has happened. In one way it probably makes things easier for her, but it also seems cowardly. If she does get pregnant, what will he do? Why would it be so impossible for him to keep the act a secret from his mother? As is made evident at Mick's house, the big thing that has just happened is simply not visible from the outside.

The letter Harry directs Mick to write to him in two months is telling: it withholds in its crypticness key information. Anyone could read the letter and be unable to guess what Mick is communicating to Harry. This recalls one of the major themes of the novel: the inability of characters to communicate effectively with one another. While Harry would surely understand Mick's message, the phrase "O.K." could not possibly contain all of her feelings, regardless of whether or not she is pregnant.

Mick did not know exactly what she was getting into, but Harry surely did. Rather than restraining himself, he acted on his desires. What leads him to run away is his own shame at his behavior: "It was all my fault...and you were two years younger than me and just a kid."

What is most important about this chapter is what it reveals about Mick. She is not traumatized by the sexual encounter with Harry, although she knows she did not enjoy it. The reader is also reminded that Mick is still quite young and has not emerged as a sexually mature teenager. Rather, she is stumped by the act and by Harry's leaving when he did.

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