Skip over navigation

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

Carson McCullers

Part Two, Chapter 6

Part Two, Chapter 5

Part Two, Chapter 7

Summary

This chapter is told through the eyes of Dr. Copeland. Every year he holds a party at his house on Christmas Day. Portia helps Dr. Copeland cook for the party, and she voices concern to her father over the fact that Willie has not sent his usual weekly letter from prison.

All the black people in the community have contributed charitable gifts to Dr. Copeland that he will distribute among them, according to need, when they all arrive at the party. Dr. Copeland mentions that he has also invited John Singer because Singer is not like any other white men he has ever known.

Each year at the Christmas party Dr. Copeland awards a five-dollar prize to the student who writes the best essay. This year the theme of the essay contest is "My Ambition: How I Can Better the Position of the Negro Race in Society." After struggling with the decision, Dr. Copeland has decided to give the award to a boy named Lancy Davis. Even though Dr. Copeland does not think the essay is especially good, he feels it the only essay remotely worthy of consideration. However, the content of the essay also disturbs Dr. Copeland; in it Lancy discusses his plans to organize a revolt of black people to take over America so they can get their revenge on white people.

As the guests arrive, Dr. Copeland greets them all. He begins to feel feverish and a little dizzy. As he gives a speech every year, soon all of the guests look at him expectantly. Dr. Copeland begins by mentioning the story of Jesus Christ, but says that because all of them have heard the story of Christ time and time again, he wants to tell them about another man who was very much like Christ.

Dr. Copeland speaks about Karl Marx and his mission for equality of work among all the peoples of the world. Marx wanted the wealth of the world to be equally divided so that there were no poor or rich; each person would have his share. Dr. Copeland explains the value of labor to his assembled guests—he explains that a house is worth more than a cabbage because it takes many men to build a house. He says that poor people, both black and white, are forced to sell their labor because the rich have unfairly appropriated the world's natural resources. Dr. Copeland speaks of how important it is that poor white people and poor black people unite. He emphasizes the importance of education, saying that blacks must continue harboring their strength and dignity and must become educated until the day comes when their abilities will not go to waste in meaningless labor for white men.

All the guests appear to understand the speech, and they clap and stamp their feet. Dr. Copeland feels his heart swell with joy. Nothing feels better to him than to speak the truth and believe that people have listened. People begin leaving the party, and eventually there is nobody left but John Singer. Dr. Copeland tells Singer that teachers and leaders are the greatest needs of the black community.

After everyone has gone, Portia cleans up the dishes while Dr. Copeland opens his medical files to look at the x-rays of his lungs. He does not know how much time he has left to live, and he does not know how much of what he said will remain with the guests at his party. As Dr. Copeland steers his automobile away from the house to go and make calls among the sick, he feels restless again.

Analysis

In many ways, this chapter is Dr. Copeland's shining moment of triumph. It is fleeting, but for once in the narrative he appears to feel that all of his efforts have not been in vain. It is cathartic for him to stand up and address large numbers of his race, because only then does he feel that he is fulfilling a purpose that God intended him to do—teaching people.

When Lancy Davis goes to accept his five-dollar prize from Dr. Copeland, he asks the Doctor if he should read the essay aloud. Dr. Copeland says that Lancy should not, but that he would like Lancy to come and speak with him sometime in the next week. It is clear to us that Dr. Copeland recognizes that the young man is smart' he wishes to give Lancy further direction so that he does not waste his talents or pursue the path of violent revenge indicated by his essay.

The speech Dr. Copeland makes is intelligent and articulate, and he takes great pains throughout to stop and explain various different ideas twice to make sure the audience understands him. For a man who silently agonizes and about the condition of the black race all the time, for a man so conscious of injustice to steadfastly face it every day and work to fight ignorance, his patience is a noble quality. Perhaps because Dr. Copeland has failed in his family life to further his dreams for the black race as a whole, it is all the more vital for him to succeed now with others whom he does not know.

The parallel between Dr. Copeland and Jake Blount becomes clear in this chapter. Both men are ardent Marxists, and both are consumed by their passions to the extent that they cannot think of anything else; they both have trouble functioning in a society that constantly reminds them of injustice. However, Dr. Copeland is further concerned about the specific plight of black people, whereas Blount is generally concerned with the common man's apparent ignorance of the injustices brought on by capitalism.

Once again we see the contrast between Dr. Copeland and Portia. She is concerned with preparations for the party and is worried about the fact that Willie has not written her. She mentions that in his last letter Willie requested to have a suit sent to him, and wrote that the con artist B.F. Mason was in the same prison. Dr. Copeland asks if that is all Willie said, and Portia says yes. It seems that Dr. Copeland harbors some hope that Willie will perhaps have some epiphany now that he is in jail; perhaps Dr. Copeland hopes that his son will suddenly remember all his father's advice and decide to change the direction of his life. However, it is clear that no such thoughts have crossed Willie's mind; he is only concerned with making the best of the situation in which he currently finds himself. It is enough for Portia to hear that Willie is getting by, but it is not enough for Dr. Copeland, who still harbors disappointment at Willie's failure to heed his fatherly advice.

The x-rays Dr. Copeland looks at the end of the chapter remind us how sick he is and suggest that he will probably die before any of his huge dreams for his people are realized. This knowledge. paired with Dr. Copeland's growing feeling that his speech at the party will soon be forgotten, make him feel restless once again.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us