The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter | Study Guide

Carson McCullers

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The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter | Part 2, Chapter 8 | Summary

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Summary

This chapter opens with a question from Biff Brannon: "Why?" Biff asks this question about many things, but is especially puzzled by Singer. It is four months after Alice's death, and Biff has remodeled the rooms they shared to his taste. He has adopted new routines that give him more time to think about the past. The café is not thriving, but he still enjoys seeing his customers. Today is Sunday, and he starts by greeting Blount and talking with him for a while. Then Lucile and Baby come in for dinner, and he spoils Baby as he always does. Her mother excuses the child's spoiled behavior by saying it is caused by "that bandage on her head" that makes her feel ashamed instead of pretty.

Blount comes back to the diner, following Singer as he always does on Sunday. Again Biff wonders why Singer is viewed as godlike by people like Blount and Mick. Around 2:30 Biff decides to take a break and walks by Mick's house, hopeful he might see her. He is disappointed that she is not outside and feels "a strange guilt...the dark guilt in all men, unreckoned and without a name."

Back at the café Biff is happy to see that Harry Minowitz, whom he has hired, has showed up early for work so he can go sit by himself in his office for a while. He sings as he plays his mandolin and dreams again of having children of his own. He thinks of his life with Alice and what went wrong. After some time he gathers himself and goes back into the café, hoping Mick will be there, but she never comes.

Analysis

Of all the characters in the novel Biff Brannon has the most self-awareness: he knows what he does not understand. He does not delude himself with unrealistic dreams like the others do. He sees the truth about why Singer is important to people: because they are "able to give him all the qualities they wanted him to have."

Yet there are some very mysterious things about Biff. He has been driven by his sexual desires for much of his life, even having relations with other women while married to Alice. But now he is impotent and seems to enjoy doing things that many would view as feminine: wearing perfume on his wrists and lemon rinse in his hair, surrounding himself with beautiful things, making sure his window displays suit his "eye for color and design." and even agreeing with Lucile that he would make a good mother.

He also has what appears to be an unusually strong love for his dead mother and what is probably an inappropriate desire to be around Mick. One logical conclusion to draw is that Biff has some unresolved sexuality issues, in which case his self-awareness has limits. What he does have, however, is a true understanding of what makes people like Blount tick. In this regard he is much superior to Singer, and that is probably why he is so confused that people idolize the deaf-mute while taking Biff's fine listening skills for granted.

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