The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Part Two, Chapters 8–9
Chapter 8 is told through Biff Brannon's point of view. Biff is pondering many things. He thinks about Hitler and the war, but he especially meditates about John Singer. He wonders why Singer goes away on the train and will not say where he has been. Biff also wonders why everyone persists in thinking that Singer is someone that he probably is not; he thinks that most people are likely to have mistaken impressions of the mute.
One day, rummaging through the bathroom closet, Biff finds a bottle of Agua Florida perfume that Alice used to wear. He uncorks it and dabs it on himself, and memories of Alice flood his mind. Biff has completely redone their bedroom—he made new curtains, put a carpet on the floor, and bought a studio couch to replace the old rusty bed. He likes to sit in the room to think and smoke a cigar or watch the sunlight on the walls. First thing each morning, Louis, the new boy who has replaced Willie in the kitchen, brings Biff coffee in bed.
That evening, Lucile and Baby come into the café to have dinner. Baby's head is still bald and bandaged. The girl is sulky and pouting. Biff sends her into the kitchen to tell Louis to bring out some ice cream and to play the harmonica for her. While Baby is in the kitchen, Biff tells Lucile not to worry about her so much.
Then Singer and Jake Blount come in. Biff notices for the first time that Blount always walks behind Singer, just the way Singer always used to walk behind the big Greek fellow he was always with. Biff wonders why he never noticed this before. Biff asks the waitress to take over. He goes for a walk to see if he can find Mick Kelly. She is not sitting on the stairs of her house as she was last Sunday, so Biff goes back to the café, hoping she will come in later to have hot chocolate. Biff always wants to give things to Mick.
Biff walks back to the café and chats with Harry Minowitz, his new employee. Then Biff goes downstairs and plays his mandolin and sings for while. He thinks about Alice again, and about death in general. He then goes back upstairs and resumes his place behind the counter.
This chapter is told through Mick's point of view. She mentions how difficult her family's financial situation is now that they have to pay the doctor bills for Baby's gunshot wound. Mick has had to stop her piano lessons. She has started writing her own songs in a notebook she keeps in a hatbox under her bed. She has named all of the songs and written her initials underneath the compositions. In order to write the music down, she has to sing it to herself over and over, which makes her voice hoarse all the time.
One event that has occurred in Mick's "outside room"—the external world—is an encounter with Harry. One day, Mick was sitting on the back steps, and Harry came over and started talking about "militant democracy" as opposed to fascism. Harry wants to kill Hitler, and Mick plans to help him do it. Harry comments that listening to Mr. Blount has given him a lot of good ideas.
Then suddenly Harry gets sad and bitter, admitting to Mick that he used to think that he himself was a Fascist, because he used to like the unity he perceived in photographs of European youths marching together he had seen in the newspaper. Furthermore, Harry often did not want to "think like [he] was Jewish." Mick tries to console Harry, but they sit in sad silence. Then Mick suddenly picks a mock fight with him, and they run into the alley. They laugh and wrestle, but as soon as Mick pins Harry, they stop laughing and get up. As they walk home, Mick feels "queer." After She goes home and eats dinner, she begins trying to write a symphony that night in her notebook.
It becomes clear once again in Chapter 8 that world events are of little consequence to the characters in the novel. Biff only spends a moment or two thinking about the situation in Germany with Hitler, and apparently whatever he is thinking is so unimportant that the narrator does not have Biff share these thoughts with us. Instead, the narrative focuses on what Biff thinks about Singer, especially Biff's wonder about why it is that people project qualities onto Singer that the mute very well may not have. It is an especially insightful observation, given that the other three people who visit Singer regularly are completely blinded by their own individual constructions of who Singer actually is.
Chapter 8 also marks the debut of Biff Brannon's feminine side. After Alice is gone, Biff redoes the room, sews all his own mourning clothes, and even begins wearing Alice's perfume after he smells it for the first time. Neither Biff nor the narrator reflects on these somewhat odd tendencies, leaving us to assume that Biff is simply less wedded to stereotypical gender roles than most people are. After all, Biff himself says in an earlier chapter that he does not think the sexes are very different; apparently now that his wife is dead he is getting in touch with his feminine side. This strange phenomenon is also shown in how good Biff is with Baby, and in his mentions that his maternal instincts lead him to fantasize about having children of his own. The attachment Biff feels for Mick appears to be somewhat sexual in nature at this point, which we see in the fact that he feels guilty about walking over to her house to see if he can catch a glimpse of her; he knows such behavior is a little perverted.
When Singer and Blount walk into the café together, Biff suddenly remembers that Singer used to walk around with a big Greek man everywhere he went. He even recalls that Singer used to walk behind Antonapoulos, but that Blount always walks behind Singer. However, Biff does not delve further into this observation to make any connection between the way the men walk and the emotional connection between them—that is, that Singer feels the same adoration for Antonapoulos that Blount feels for Singer. It is fitting that the one character who observes the way things actually are—rather than project his own emotions onto others—fails to recognize the underlying significance of his observation. This missed connection occurs largely because Biff mentally dismisses Antonapoulos as the "big deaf-mute moron" and "the sloppy Greek"; it would never occur to Biff that Singer would feel unmitigated devotion for such a slovenly looking person.
The broader historical issues of the time seem important only to Harry Minowitz—slightly ironic in light of the fact that Harry is only a child, whereas none of the adults in the story give much thought at all to the Nazi situation in Germany. Mick understands Harry's concerns, however, which provides another moment of relief in a narrative in which most actions are misunderstood. The relationship between Harry and Mick becomes more complicated in Chapter 8 as the two realize, during their wrestling match, that they are attracted to each other. Neither of the youngsters, however, is sure what to do about it. This time marks the beginning of Mick's sexual coming-of-age.
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