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The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

Carson McCullers

Part One, Chapter 3

Part One, Chapter 2

Part One, Chapter 4

Summary

The narrative of this chapter focuses on Mick Kelly's point of view. Mick wakes up early in the morning and sits out on the steps reading the funnies, waiting for John Singer to come out. Mr. Kelly, however, tells Mick that Mr. Singer was out late the night before and that he has a guest staying with him today. With nothing else to do, Mick takes her little brothers Bubber and Ralph, puts them in her wagon, and starts walking down the street.

Reaching a big, new house under construction in the neighborhood, Mick climbs up a ladder onto the house's steep roof and has a cigarette. She feels like singing, but no notes come out of her throat. She thinks about her plans to be a big inventor, and about the classical music that she likes. Then Mick hears Ralph crying, so she climbs down from the roof and quiets him.,

Then Mick wanders around the unfinished interior of the house. Taking out some pieces of chalk, she writes the names "Edison," "Dick Tracy," and "Mussolini" on the wall in capital letters. Then she writes "Pussy" on the other wall because she knows it is a bad word. Mick signs her initials M.K. below all of these words. Then she remembers the name of the classical musician whose music she loves, and she writes "Motsart" at the top of the list. Mick goes outside. Bubber climbs back in the wagon with Ralph, and they head home.

Fourteen people live in the three-story Kelly house—Mick, her family, and seven boarders. Mick goes into the room she shares with her two sisters, Etta and Hazel. Etta is obsessed with going to Hollywood and becoming a movie star, so she spends inordinate amounts of time grooming herself. Hazel is the eldest, and is lazy. Mick argues with her sisters briefly, then takes a hatbox from under her bed and goes to find her older brother, Bill.

Mick enters Bill's room and finds him engrossed in reading an issue of Popular Mechanics magazine. She looks around the room at the pretty faces of women he has put up on the wall and at a painting she did in a free government art class the past year. Most of her paintings have large crowds of people in them. Mick looks through all her old paintings and decides that she is not a bad artist but that nothing feels quite as good as listening to music.

Mick opens the hatbox. Inside there is a cracked ukulele strung with two violin strings, a guitar string, and a banjo string. Mick has been trying to make herself a violin from scratch, but as she looks at the clumsy, patchwork instrument she feels defeated. She tells Bill her violin has turned out all wrong. He tells her that a violin is not something you can just make; it is something you have to buy. Mick gets upset, angrily shoves the violin into the hatbox, and runs out of the room.

Mick eats dinner with Bubber and the family's kindly black servant, Portia. Portia tells Mick that she would do well to become a religious person. Portia says that her husband, Highboy, and her brother Willie have inner peace because they go to church, and that Mick "don't love and don't have peace." Mick leaves the table, laughing at Bubber's question, "What all does God eat?"

Mick sits on the stairs outside of Miss Brown's room, the boarder who usually played Mozart's music. Mick thinks of all the people she has loved whom Portia does not know about. Then Mr. Singer comes out on the landing, and Mick resolves to go and see him sometime soon.

Analysis

Although Singer is the focal character for all of the characters in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, in many ways Mick is the protagonist. There are more chapters devoted to her point of view than there are to any of the other characters, so by the end of the novel we have the greatest understanding of her thoughts. Mick's passion for music becomes evident in this chapter, as does her ambition to be famous. We see these intertwined passions in the episode at the unfinished house Mick visits with her brothers—she writes her own initials under all of the names she writes, as though someday her name will be famous enough to add to the list of luminaries. However, the fact that Mick also feels compelled to write a "very bad word" as graffiti on the wall of the house reminds us that she is still very young and immature, despite her lofty ambitions.

Mick's paintings are symbolic of her relation with the outside world in general: she constantly feels surrounded by too many people, and she sees the world as a chaotic and unreasonable place in which she does not fit. The paintings are full of people behaving irrationally or fleeing for their lives. Indeed, Mick's house is always crowded; there is never an empty room to which she can go to be alone. Instead, she takes long walks at night through the neighborhood or steals a few moments to herself when she is babysitting Bubber and Ralph during the day. Mick knows she must somehow find a way to leave this place if she is ever going to be able to pursue her dreams of becoming famous.

The violin Mick tries to construct is highly symbolic of her thwarted musical endeavors throughout the book. She desperately wants to buy a piano and a radio and to take music lessons, but her family cannot afford any of these, so her dreams remain unfulfilled. The futility of Mick's efforts in the face of overwhelming environmental constraints such as poverty is painfully clear in the quality of the instrument she is able to construct. Her frustration at her inability to make a real violin is indicative of a greater frustrated desire to become a famous musician.

Portia is unusually perceptive of Mick's inner emotions and tendencies, though nobody else in the house appears to notice much about the girl. Portia speaks truly when she claims that Mick does not have any "inner peace"—Mick is consumed with her "plans" and ambitions for the future, ideas she makes all the time in her head. Portia also indicates by her words that her own father—Dr. Copeland—is similar to Mick in that he lacks faith in God and that he cannot find peace. The fact that both Mick and Portia's father are unreligious and have restless natures also supports the idea of Singer as a Christ figure—Mick and Dr. Copeland both find a measure of peace when they are with him.

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