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The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

Carson McCullers

Part One, Chapter 2

Part One: Chapter 1

Part One, Chapter 3

Summary

This second chapter begins three months later, told by the narrator through Biff Brannon's point of view. Biff is the proprietor of the New York Café, a local restaurant where many town residents go to eat, drink, and socialize. It is midnight as the chapter opens, and most of the patrons are drinking. John Singer is sitting by himself at one of the tables.

Biff goes upstairs to a room where his wife, Alice, is sleeping. He bumps into a suitcase on the floor. Alice wakes up and orders Biff to get rid of the "lunatic" who has been at the bar constantly for the past two weeks. She does not want Biff to return the crazy man's suitcase to him until he has paid for all the drinks Biff has served him. Alice warns Biff that the drunk had better not be down in the bar when she wakes up tomorrow.

Biff goes into the bathroom and remembers that Jake Blount, the drunk, first came into the bar on May 15th. Biff describes Blount as a short man with sagging shoulders and a fat lower lip. There is something oddly intriguing about Jake; he talks all the time, but in a variety of ways—some nights he sounds like a professor, others like a "linthead." Jake speaks about everything from politics to cathouses, and Biff is interested in watching him some more.

Biff takes Blount's suitcase downstairs and puts it behind the cash register, where he usually stands to keep an eye on everything. He has just started to read the paper when he looks up and sees Mick Kelly standing in the entrance—"a gangling, towheaded youngster, a girl of about twelve... dressed in khaki shorts, a blue shirt, and tennis shoes." Mick comes in and buys a pack of cigarettes. She accidentally spills some coins on the floor; Blount comes up to her, picks up the coins, and places them on the counter. Then Blount comments that he has been seeing John Singer in his dreams for the past few nights. Mick mentions before she leaves that Singer is rooming as a boarder in her family's house.

Blount goes over to where Singer is sitting and begins to talk to him. He tells Singer, "You're the only one in this town who catches what I mean." Blount keeps talking to Singer for about an hour, "as though a dam inside him had broken." Finally, Singer gets up and leaves, but Blount is so drunk he does not even notice. When he realizes that Singer has gone, he gets angry and leaves.

Biff dozes on the counter for a while and then is awakened by Willie, the young black boy who helps out in the kitchen. Willie tells Biff that Blount started butting his head against a brick wall in the alley and beating the wall with his fists as though he had lost his mind. Then Blount saw Singer and started yelling at him until Blount suddenly fell down. The police were called and are likely to arrive any minute.

After the police carry Blount back into the café, Singer writes on a piece of paper that Blount can come home with him, and that they should give him some soup and coffee first. Blount is sobbing and holding his hand over his mouth so that Biff and Singer will not see his lips trembling. Singer and Blount set off, and Biff goes upstairs and gets into bed.

Analysis

The second chapter introduces us to Biff Brannon. He is obviously a person who thinks a great deal about many different things, and is especially intrigued by Jake Blount, simply because the man is so bizarre. Biff is also very interested in Mick Kelly; his feelings about her appear to oscillate between attraction and fatherly adoration. As the novel progresses, Blount, Mick, and Biff all become drawn to Singer; in this chapter, Blount first begins to talk to the mute. Blount feels that Singer "knows" something—something that Blount himself also knows but that almost everyone else fails to understand. Although what it is that Jake knows is not revealed until later, it is clear even now that Jake does not feel the slightest need to tell Singer, as he is so certain that the mute shares his knowledge. Indeed, Blount is so intent on talking to Singer that he fails to even notice, until his second or third encounter with Singer, that the man is mute.

Once Blount finds his confidant, he is upset when Singer leaves. He has a fit and hurts himself. This outburst demonstrates Blount's inner torment: even words fail to express the anger he feels inside him. However, because Blount feels that Singer understands all of the same things that he does, he is soothed by the knowledge that he is not alone. Just as Singer does not need reciprocation from Antonapoulos to be happy with the friendship with him, Jake does not need Singer to reply to feel that their conversations are meaningful.

Biff and Alice's marriage is obviously argumentative and unhappy; it is no wonder that Biff is searching for some sort of solace. However, throughout the novel we never once witness an encounter solely between Singer and Biff—even when Biff goes to visit Singer at the Kellys' later in the story, Singer reports that Biff never has much to say. Unlike all the other characters who seek out Singer, Biff is more interested in understanding than he is in being understood.

Some critics have called Singer a Christ figure through whom each of the other main characters searches for redemption. Indeed, although Singer is himself a victim of circumstances beyond his own personal control, he is also a redeemer of the four characters who come into contact with him. This contemporary hero- victim is reminiscent of Christ's role in the Bible. This concept of Christ in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is partly possible because of McCullers's rendition of love as something absolute and abstract that overrides all barriers of sex, age, time, and distance. This somewhat Platonic ideal of love is present in much of McCullers's fiction; however, in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, such love is never reciprocated or satisfying for the main characters. All attempts at redemption through such love in the novel are thwarted by other environmental factors that are beyond individual control.

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