Skip over navigation

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

Carson McCullers

Part Two, Chapters 10–11

Part Two, Chapters 8–9

Part Two, Chapters 12–13

Summary

Chapter 10

This chapter is told through the perspective of Dr. Copeland. He and Portia have waited six weeks to hear from Willie, to no avail. Then one day, Portia comes into Dr. Copeland's house while he is eating breakfast. He can tell she has been drinking all night. She tells him that one of Willie's friends was rude to a prison guard, and then his other friend tried to run away. Willie and his two friends were then put into a freezing cold room for three days with their feet tied up over their heads. When they got out, Willie had to have both his feet amputated because they had swelled up, frozen, and become gangrenous. Dr. Copeland hears Portia's words, but in his shock he has difficulty grasping and understanding exactly what she says.

Dr. Copeland accompanies Portia to the Kellys' house. Mick declares that she would like to kill the prison guards who did that to Willie. Dr. Copeland stays for coffee and then leaves to make his doctor's rounds. He racks his brain to think of a white person whom he could trust and who would be in a position to help his son get justice. He decides to try and speak with the judge of the Superior Court.

When Dr. Copeland gets arrives at the courthouse, the deputy sheriff gives him a bad look as he is walking down the hallway. Dr. Copeland sits quietly on a bench waiting for the judge to see him. Finally the deputy sheriff calls Dr. Copeland over. He comments that the doctor smells like he has been drinking. Dr. Copeland calmly responds that that is clearly a lie. The sheriff and some of his cronies beat Dr. Copeland and put him in a jail cell overnight for speaking in such a way to a white man. The next morning Portia comes to get her father.

Chapter 11

Chapter 11 is told from Mick's point of view. She is sitting out on the back porch trying to write a song, but she can feel Harry Minowitz watching her from his front porch, which makes it hard for her to think. Harry comes over, and Mick comments that she wishes they could go swimming. They decide to go on a bike trip to a creek in the woods the next day.

They set out the next morning and bike for an hour and a half. They stop and buy beer, then bike another half-hour to the creek. Although Mick is not a good swimmer, she summons courage and manages to swim across the creek. For about two hours they holler and jump around in the water like children. Then suddenly they look at each other, feeling as if they have nothing new to do. Mick suddenly suggests they swim naked. They get undressed, stare at each other for a moment, and then Harry nervously suggests that they get dressed again and eat the rest of their lunch. All through the rest of their lunch they are silent. Then Harry tells Mick that he thinks she is "so pretty."

They lie down side by side to rest before going back to town, and during their conversation, they both turn and look at each other at the same time. They feel attracted to each other again, and they have sex. On the way back home, Harry is worried and is crying about it. He wants to talk, so they pull their bikes over to the side of the road. He says he has never even kissed a girl before, and Mick says she has never kissed a boy before. They both say they never want to get married to anyone. Harry says he is going to leave town because if he stays he thinks his mother will be able to sense what happened. Harry tells Mick that in a month or two he will write to her and ask her if she is doing okay.

They walk their bikes the sixteen miles back to their houses, shake hands, and part. Mick is surprised that no one in her family notices what is different about her. That night, Mrs. Minowitz calls and asks Mick where Harry is, as he has gone missing. Mick says she does not know.

Analysis

Dr. Copeland decides to try to help Willie get justice. However, his attempt backfires when he does not heed his nagging feeling that it would be better for him to come back later: "His sense of prudence told him to go away and return later in the afternoon when the sheriff was not there... But now something in him would not let him withdraw." Sure enough, Dr. Copeland ends up in jail—an event that is likely much more devastating to him than it would be to a man not as passionately dedicated to fighting racism. It is a downward turn in the narrative—despite his best efforts; Dr. Copeland cannot overcome the racism of the society in which he lives. It is also symbolic that Willie's feet have been cut off: black people are already deprived of so many of the rights to which white people are entitled that all of the black characters in the story are effectively crippled—even those who are not literally confined to a wheelchair.

In Chapter 11, Mick breaks a significant tie to her childhood when she loses her virginity. However, because the sex is brief—undescribed in the narrative—and because she has known Harry for so long, the event becomes something that puzzles her rather than producing psychic trauma. The impact of the experience is wiped out with even greater force when Mick returns home to discuss the event with Singer, and, as we see later, is unable to. Harry, on the other hand, is very upset for a variety of reasons: first, because he defiled a virgin; second, because Mick is not Jewish. Harry decides he has to leave, and he tells Mick that after he writes to her she should send him a postcard with the word "O.K." on it so that he'll know that she is not pregnant.

McCullers deliberately treats Mick's sexual initiation lightly and delicately: "It was like her head was broke off from her body and thrown away. And her eyes looked up straight into the blinding sun while she counted something in her mind. And then this was the way. This was how it was." McCullers does not want Mick to suddenly transform into a sexually sophisticated adult, nor does she wish to convey the idea that either Mick or Harry has found true love. Mick's characteristic exuberance, which we see throughout the rest of the novel, is conspicuously absent when she loses her virginity. On the contrary, for her, the experience is uniquely devoid of any physical or mental feeling at all.

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