The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter | Study Guide

Carson McCullers

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The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter | Symbols


John Singer

As the central character in the novel around which the other major characters swirl, John Singer is also a symbol. He represents people's hopes, serving as a substitute for God, because he is whatever people need him to be, whatever keeps them believing in their dreams. Mick thinks he understands her love for music. Blount and Dr. Copeland think Singer understands, embraces, and even endorses their individual missions. Biff sees that people view Singer as godlike, but he can't figure out why. Nevertheless, he too goes to Singer when he is seeking comfort. Even strangers who see Singer walking the streets at night turn him into what they need him to be. Their myths about his identity match their own beliefs about what makes a person good.


For Mick, music represents the only language that makes sense. When she hears music, she understands there is a bigger world out there, one full of things she needs to experience. Music takes her away from her constrained environment, where she feels lonely and alienated. When she hears music and plays it over and over in her mind, it gives her essential messages.

Mick is able to figure out how to write music on her own because its language is so meaningful and important to her. She does not mind struggling over notations because putting the music down means others might someday hear what she has to say. Music also represents Mick's hope for the future. She dreams of escaping poverty by being a successful musician.


Weather reflects the mood and action of the novel. Without a doubt, oppressive heat is an element of the generally oppressive atmosphere of the small Southern town. During the hot summer months, any progress people might have made toward better lives during the other seasons of the year is halted. Violence becomes more frequent, as tempers flare along with the heat. Similarly, the southerners seem to feel crippled by cold weather. Dr. Copeland suffers most in the cold, and other characters, major and minor, complain about it and have negative experiences. Spring brings hope, but it is as fleeting as the season. The rain that falls in the spring washes away troubles for a while, but then the cycle of oppressive heat comes again, and people fall back to their violent ways.

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