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The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter | Study Guide

Carson McCullers

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The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter | Part 2, Chapter 5 | Summary



In this chapter the focus returns again to Mick. It is nearly Christmas and it has been raining for days. Finally the rain breaks, and when Mick gets home after practicing the piano in the gym at school she finds the boys outside in the sunshine. Mick plays the piano every day and has been spending her lunch money to take music lessons from a girl named Delores Brown. Hungry, she chokes down cornpones, or cornbread and margarine, in the kitchen before going back outside.

A 10-year-old boy from the neighborhood named Spareribs is with Bubber and Ralph and has brought his dead father's loaded rifle with him. Bubber is playing with the gun. Bored, Mick goes into what she calls her "inside room," the world of her thoughts and feelings and songs, and then decides she will go to the library. But just as she is about to leave, Baby makes an appearance, dressed up beautifully like "a fairy or something in the picture show" and is prissing around without looking their way. No one can take their eyes off her, even though they all know she is a show-off, and she is too stuck-up to come over to them when Bubber invites her. Since it is now too close to suppertime for Mick to go to the library, she stays and chats with the boys until Baby comes sashaying back down the street. Again Bubber asks her to come over, but she ignores him. He raises the rifle and points it at her. Before anyone knows what is happening, the gun goes off and Baby falls to the sidewalk, bleeding from the head. Bubber drops the gun and runs away.

The first one to reach Baby is Mr. Kelly, who carries her into the house. Then an ambulance comes and takes her away. Baby's mother and Mr. Kelly go in the ambulance to the hospital. When Mick's father gets home, he says Baby has a fractured skull. He is furious with Bubber, who is nowhere to be found. Mick knows her brother, though, and knows she will find him in the tree house in their backyard. Sure enough, he is there, and Mick shows him no mercy. She wants him to be very afraid and to "never want to pick up a gun again." So she tells him Baby is dead and he will go to jail and might even "fry up like a piece of burnt bacon" in an electric chair. She warns him to stay where he is and says she might be able to bring him some food "in a few days."

Mick does not reveal where Bubber is and decides he still needs to worry and feel "plenty sorry for what he did." When her dad calls to check on Baby at the hospital, Lucile calls back to say she will be over to talk about what has happened. At this point Mick suddenly realizes Bubber might actually be in real trouble and thinks she should go get him. But first she waits to see what Lucile will say. When she arrives, Biff is with her. She announces she will not "sue for every cent" the Kellys own as long as they pay for all of the medical expenses, including a private room and nurse, as well as other things related to Baby's "career" that have been ruined.

When Mick finally goes back to the tree house, Bubber is gone. In a panic, she runs to her father and says they must begin searching for him. They finally think of Portia's house and when they get there they find a note from him: "I gone to Florada." Mick quickly realizes it's a trick and he is actually on the road to Atlanta, which he has been on before. So they go down the road about half a mile in an automobile and find him. Not realizing who is in the car, he runs to them, but then tries to get away. Back home, they drag him into the house as he still resists, "ready to fight the whole crowd." Then he goes crazy, yelling and saying he hates everyone. Only Singer is able to soothe him, just by looking calmly at him.

When Bubber finally gets in bed, Mick lies beside him but he won't let her touch him. He cries himself to sleep, and in the morning he is a completely different boy than he was before the accident. He keeps to himself, and after just one week the family doesn't even call him by his nickname anymore but begins using his given name, George. Christmas is a sad one for the family, but the chapter ends on a somewhat hopeful note, with Mick and George playing with firecrackers and eating candy outside on Christmas morning.


The tragedy of what happens is based on the fact that a good boy's life will be changed because of an accident, an event that took just a second. Readers should remember how Mick has always said Bubber is a really good kid. She counts on him to help her with Ralph, and he does a good job. She never worries he will leave the baby alone or let anything bad happen to him. Yet when she decides to "manage him," she makes him feel that he is bad. Mick is just a young girl, after all—a young girl with a lot of responsibility. Nevertheless, it is worth considering whether Mick's outburst at Bubber up in the tree house had as much of an effect on his changed personality as shooting Baby did. She is in charge of him, which gives her power over him. His response to her tirade is to try to run away, and he will not allow her to touch him—literally or figuratively—upon his return.

Mick's love for Bubber is fierce and comes through as she defends him to Lucile and links him with the music in her mind, feeling "like she could never do anything good enough for him." The tragedy also affects her deeply; she feels guilty for having made him feel so bad and feels terrible when she can't seem to reach him anymore. This is a component of growing up—her actions have consequences and her love is not enough to protect Bubber from violence and unhappiness.

This chapter brings home the idea that many of the characters have dreams that cannot be fully realized because of their conditions in life. Lucile placed so much hope in her daughter's future success, but Baby's head is shaved after she has been shot, and she becomes lethargic during elocution classes. It suggests that dreams can be shattered in an instant and also reminds the reader that destruction is imminent, as death has been foreshadowed throughout the book.

By the end of the novel, people are still searching, still trying to make their dreams real. Mick, Blount, Dr. Copeland, Biff—none are satisfied.

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