The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter | Study Guide

Carson McCullers

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The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter | Part 2, Chapter 7 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 7 is set in the heart of a very cold winter, and perhaps the change in weather contributes to the changes in Singer. He goes back to walking for miles through the town, as he did when Antonapoulos first left. He observes lonely people looking for purpose in the mill areas, African Americans living their lives in their parts of the town, and the rich safely ensconced in the huge homes. As he walks night after night, more and more people get to know him and many rumors swirl around about his identity. As for Singer, his thoughts during his walks are on his beloved friend and his memories of their life together, both good and bad. Gradually, however, his mind lets go of the bad memories, retaining only "the wise and good."

McCullers paints a picture of Singer "in an alien land...bewildered" without his friend. He does not understand the people who spend so much time talking to him; he is just watching "the words shape on their lips." He is glad to have them with him, to assuage his loneliness. Paying attention to them does not take much effort because after all of these months he knows "what each one of them would say before he began, because the meaning was always the same."

Another change in Singer is that he wants to talk with his hands and must constantly stop himself from "talking aloud to himself." His hands become like enemies that will not let him rest.

One day Singer visits the house where he and Antonapoulos lived together. He feels lonelier than ever, with an emptiness "very deep inside." He goes by the fruit store where his friend had worked and the room where he got his picture taken every payday. Everywhere he looks there is a memory of Antonapoulos.

As Christmas nears, Singer buys and sends presents to Antonapoulos and gives gifts to his regular visitors, even buying a radio for all of them to enjoy—which Mick especially loves. Soon after Christmas, for the first time, all four of his regular visitors come by at once. The conversation is trivial and awkward, and they all depart at the same time. Not understanding what has happened, Singer decides to write about it to his friend: "They all came to my room at the same time today. They sat like they were from different cities. They were even rude, and you know how I have always said that to be rude and not attend to the feelings of others is wrong. So it was like that. I do not understand." Singer ends the letter with "I am not meant to be alone and without you who understand."

After having a troubled dream that night and receiving word that the one very special gift he ordered for Antonapoulos has finally come, Singer decides he must take a trip to see his friend. His employer allows him two days off, so he leaves immediately. Arriving at the asylum, Singer learns Antonapoulos is ill and in the infirmary. His friend looks like "some wise king from a legend" in his bed, and he receives SInger graciously. Singer talks and talks, so excited that his face is flushed and his eyes full of tears. He stays through the dinner hour and then sets up the special present he has brought, a movie projector. Antonapoulos loves the Mickey Mouse and Popeye films he shows, but all too soon Singer must say goodbye and leave his friend to return home. Once there he continues his solitary walks, and the rumors about him grow "marvelous and very real."

Analysis

The situational irony is thick in this chapter. Even as readers learn for sure how little Singer understands about the people who talk to him, he is making the same mistake himself. His friend cannot read, yet he writes him a letter, convinced that Antonapoulos is the only person who understands him. And as Singer arrives at Antonapoulos's bedside, the narrator describes the man as placid and seeming "hardly to be aware that Singer was with him." As Singer speaks to his friend of serious matters, Antonapoulos's response is to poke him in the stomach and make a funny face.

Just as the people who talk so earnestly to Singer mistakenly believe he is empathizing with them, Singer has the false notion that Antonapoulos understands him on a deep level and cares for him. In actuality what Antonapoulos cares about is himself and his desires. He acts like a king in the infirmary, dressed in the fine garments Singer has sent him and motioning with benevolent gestures as if he is the lord of those who care for him. He eats greedily and feels it is his right to judge the other patients. He tolerates Singer, but that is about the extent of it.

Despite Singer claiming he does not understand Blount, Mick, Dr. Copeland, or Biff, he makes some insightful comments about each of them in his letter to Antonapoulos. He knows that Biff is different from the rest—more balanced and thoughtful—and that Blount is insane. He knows what each person thinks he or she understands: music, the plight of African Americans, the need for freedom.

Yet for all the situational irony of this chapter, the reader still feels significant empathy for Singer, a man whose hands now itch to sign and who is the subject of much gossip within the town. He is a generous man, giving thoughtful gifts to his visitors, but depending on whom you ask, Singer is Jewish, Turkish, or rich. Singer is a man who can represent anything to anybody, but who is unable to find an outlet for his own desires, as his frustration from being unable to sign and his wanderings of the town suggest. As the narrator puts it at the end of the chapter, everyone believes Singer is what they need him to be. In turn, Singer believes Antonapoulos is what he needs him to be, having even eliminated all of the negative memories he once had that prove Antonapoulos is not a very good person at all.

This chapter drives home Singer's outsider status within the town, yet it also highlights his unequal friendship with Antonapoulos. In addition it raises questions about whether Singer could be happy with his visitors if he perhaps forgot his friend. This is suggested by the fact that he enjoys the company of Mick and Biff, the two visitors who seem most likely to become real friends given the opportunity. His letter to Antonapoulos reveals that he understands little of what his visitors tell him, so we are left wondering if Singer could ever belong or will forever be an outsider.

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