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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 3, Chapter 4 | Summary



Set just before midnight on August 21, the story's final chapter focuses on the last of the major characters, Biff Brannon, who has just woken from a nap. He thinks about Blount and where he might be on his journey. His kitchen worker, Louis, is asleep, and the café is deserted. Biff spends some time making a flower arrangement in the shop window and then goes out to admire his handiwork and enjoy the night air.

When he comes back inside he begins working the crossword in the paper and muses on the lack of love in his life right now. He has gotten over whatever his fascination with Mick had been and has no one new to love. Then his thoughts turn to the unsolved riddle of Singer, which seems "like an ugly joke."

Readers learn Biff handled Singer's affairs. The deaf-mute had owed a lot of money, but there was enough to bury him properly. Many people were there, and those who had depended on Singer so much mourned openly. As Biff thinks about the funeral he suddenly has "a glimpse of human struggle and of valor." He realizes the importance of love and feels "suspended between radiance and darkness. Between bitter irony and faith."

Spooked by his thoughts, Biff takes a while to get a grip on his emotions. He sternly reminds himself that he is "a sensible man" and forces himself to go about his normal café duties and to "await the morning sun."


It is fitting that the novel ends with Biff's thoughts. Despite his shortcomings, he is the most balanced adult in the story, the one who sees the truth most clearly with an open mind most of the time. He is also the most dependable, handling Singer's business affairs and providing Blount with money for his travels. He even appears to have gotten over his odd attraction to Mick, although it is by no means implied that he is totally happy.

Even so, he is filled with terror when he seriously considers the human condition—the need for love, the fear of loneliness, the endless struggle—and this drives home the novel's main ideas. Communication fails people; isolation and alienation are part of the human condition. His epiphany at the end of the novel becomes the means through which readers come to understand that, with Biff and Mick at least, people do survive. People do face the next day.

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