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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 6 | Summary



Chapter 6 returns the focus to Dr. Copeland, who is preparing for his annual Christmas party despite being ill enough that Portia believes he should be in bed. They discuss her worries about not hearing from Willie for a while and then talk about one element of the party: the doctor's choice of a winning essay written by a young African American. He is less than pleased with the entries on this year's topic, "My Ambition: How I Can Better the Position of the Negro Race in Society," but finally decides to award the prize to a troubled youngster named Lancy Davis, who has written about serving as a Moses figure to lead a revolution of all colored people to "achieve revenge for all their sufferings."

Portia and her father then discuss how to distribute the year's gifts—given by those who will attend the party, but then redistributed among them. The warm house smells of wonderful foods and rich coffee as the guests begin arriving at ten o'clock that morning. The only white person present is Singer.

Soon it is time for the doctor to make his annual speech. He has not known what to say until he begins speaking, but then he gives a powerful speech about Karl Marx and the efficacy of his ideas. It is part lecture and part inspirational oration. The guests respond with fervor to what he says: "That the real truth!" "That how things is!" Then Dr. Copeland outlines what he views as the "strong, true purpose" of the African American race: "We must arise and be whole again! We must be free!" He urges the listeners to "walk with strength and dignity through the days of our humiliation" and to educate their children.

When the speech is over Dr. Copeland is filled with joy. He is exhausted as he says goodbye to his guests, but he feels they have understood his message. Before long, however, his "old black, violent feeling" returns as he ponders his mortality and frets over his children's inability to follow his mission. As he drives to visit some patients, "his heart turned with this angry, restless love."


What Dr. Copeland most wants is not as selfless as he thinks. He wants people to listen to him and respect his words. Like Blount, he wants to be viewed as a prophet. He gets the positive reception he craves at his party and pats himself on the back afterward, telling Singer, "Teachers. That is our greatest need. Leaders. Someone to unite and guide us." But his dark, restless side cannot relax into the positive afterglow of his victory, and he is soon speaking angrily to his daughter: "You mope and drool around until I cannot bear to look on you." His treatment of his daughter suggests that he understands he cannot reach his children anymore and hopes to reach his broader race instead. By awarding Lancy Davis the prize, he also identifies a stranger who has the potential to carry his message, with some refinement.

Dr. Copeland's speech makes clear his connection to Blount, as they have both now mentioned Marx in the context of outrage over conditions in the world. This speech also drives home that Dr. Copeland is a more dazzling speaker than Blount, more capable of inspiring people in the moment, yet just as ineffectual in the long term.

There is plenty of foreshadowing in this chapter that something bad has happened to Willie in prison, but this is not a topic the doctor cares to discuss. It is humiliating to him that his own son is in prison instead of walking through life with dignity.

The fact that Singer is the only white person present at the gathering, and is present at all, is something of great significance. Dr. Copeland does not trust white people, yet he has come to depend on Singer in an interesting way. He believes Singer understands his message and supports his cause. This is situational irony, as Singer really doesn't "get" the doctor at all. Furthermore, it reveals a surprising level of naïveté in the doctor. It is apparently not too difficult to fool him after all.

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