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The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

Carson McCullers

Part One, Chapters 5–6

Part One, Chapter 4

Part Two, Chapter 1

Summary

Chapter 5

The narrative of Chapter 5 focuses on the point of view of Dr. Benedict Mady Copeland, Portia's father. Portia comes to visit her father in the evening. As they talk, it is clear that Dr. Copeland is highly educated, as his precise, mannered speech is a far cry from the slangy vocabulary and syntax of the other black characters.

Portia begins cooking some collard greens that she has brought with her. As she is cooking, her father asks her is she is planning to have children. This comment appears to make Portia angry. Dr. Copeland reflects on all the children he has delivered during his career that have been named after him, and on that fact that each time he lectures, explains, and encourages the adults to use birth control: "It is not more children we need but more chances for the ones already on the earth." But all of Dr. Copeland's efforts have seemed to have no effect.

Then Portia tells her father how a rich man named B.F. Mason came to town a while ago. Claiming to be from Washington, D.C., he went door-to-door in the black neighborhood to sign people up for what he touted as a government pension program. By the time Mason was discovered as a fraud, all the money he took had been hidden or spent.

The story of this scam artist angers Dr. Copeland, who claims, "The Negro race of its own accord climbs up on the cross every Friday." He says if he could find just four black people with intelligence and courage, he could make a difference for the black race. Then Dr. Copeland and Portia get into a discussion about the way he raised her and her brothers; and Portia says one cannot make children come out the way one wants them to. She says that because he pushed them so hard as a father, he alienated her brother Willie and has never even really met her husband, Highboy. Portia's comments make Dr. Copeland cry.

Dr. Copeland recovers and then reflects on Portia's mother, Daisy, and her gentle nature. Though Dr. Copeland has never been a religious man, Daisy used to go to church every Sunday and often took the children with her. Dr. Copeland had huge aspirations for his children—he wanted them to be lawyers, doctors, professors, scientists. But none of them became any of those things. His elder two sons are named Hamilton and Karl Marx, and he is more or less estranged from them.

Then Portia discusses her work at the Kellys' house. Dr. Copeland encourages her to find another job, but she says she is happy there. She mentions John Singer, which seems to brighten her father's demeanor. Dr. Copeland remembers a rainy night a few days ago when he was standing on a street corner trying to light a cigarette. The matches kept fizzling out in the wet weather. Suddenly Singer appeared beside Dr. Copeland, holding up a light. In the glow from the flame they could see each other's faces, and Singer smiled at him. It was the first time in Dr. Copeland's life that a white man had shown him a gesture of courtesy.

Dr. Copeland tells Portia about a deaf-mute boy who is one of his patients. Portia encourages her father to write to Singer to see if he knows any institutions where the boy could go. Then Highboy and Willie arrive at the house, and Portia invites them in at Dr. Copeland's request. Everyone is awkwardly silent until Dr. Copeland asks Willie, in a sort of outburst, if Willie remembers anything Dr. Copeland taught him when he was young. Willie does not know how to reply, and his father says he feels that he has wasted his life. Everyone gets upset, then Portia, Highboy, and Willie quickly leave.

Chapter 6

Mick Kelly, Jake Blount, Biff Brannon, and Dr. Copeland gradually become regular visitors of Mr. Singer. Then suddenly Singer leaves for two weeks without telling anyone where he is going. He goes to visit Antonapoulos at the asylum. Singer tells his friend about all of his guests and about how they have helped take away his loneliness a little. Antonapoulos barely responds at all. When the visit is over, Singer returns to his room at the Kellys'. Despite questioning from his guests, he does not tell them where he has been.

Analysis

Chapter 5 introduces us to Dr. Copeland, who becomes the fourth visitor of Singer. Though Dr. Copeland does not know it, his ideals are very similar to those of Jake Blount, the only difference being that Dr. Copeland's desire for justice is racially, rather than economically, motivated. However, both Blount and Copeland share a passion for justice and a sense of frustration with the ignorance of those around them. Dr. Copeland is especially saddened by the fact that his own children cannot understand him, and that none of them have grown up and prospered as he hoped. The fact that Dr. Copeland's son Karl Marx goes by the nickname "Buddy" symbolizes the obliviousness Dr. Copeland sees in his fellow black people—most of them do not even know who Karl Marx is, let alone know the significance of the name.

Dr. Copeland has taken the path of peaceful resistance in his mission to educate people, but because he is not sure anyone listens to his words, he feels he has had no lasting effect, which often makes him feel depressed. Dr. Copeland feels such depression when Portia tells him about the con artist B.F. Mason: whereas Portia sees the event merely as a pity because Willie gave money to a scam artist, Dr. Copeland sees it as a wider indication of his view that black people accept their lot in life rather than strive to change it through education. By remaining ignorant, Dr. Copeland says, the black race crucifies itself repeatedly, which is painful for him to watch because he feels such a deep love for and obligation to his people.

We learn that Dr. Copeland deeply loved his wife, Daisy, but they eventually became estranged from each other, largely because she did not see eye to eye with his unrelenting ideals. Dr. Copeland says that even when he told Daisy all of the things he thought about—all of his ambitions and all the injustice he noticed—she did not cease to be a gentle, accepting person. Because she was a peaceful, religious person, the injustices of the black people did not make her as bitter or as upset as he. This difference in personality became a source of frustration for him, because even his wife did not share the anguish he felt. Dr. Copeland's feelings of frustration and despair are compounded by the fact that none of his children can relate to him either. Because he cannot relate to his family, he is much like Mick Kelly—both of them are unable to successfully communicate, although Mick's interaction with her family is not destructive like Dr. Copeland's is.

McCullers implies the extent of racism in the South in the late 1930s and early 1940s in the wonder Dr. Copeland feels when Singer lights his cigarette for him. It is literally the first time Dr. Copeland—not a young man by any means—has experienced courtesy from a white man. Indeed, in the South at that time, black people were still not allowed in many public places. Dr. Copeland would not have been allowed into the New York Café, not necessarily due to prejudice on Biff Brannon's part, but because racist white patrons would likely complain. Although slavery had been abolished nearly eighty years earlier, racial prejudice was still very prevalent.

Part One closes as it opens—with chapters narrated from John Singer's point of view. Singer is nowhere near as affected by his visitors as they are by him; his sole desire is to have Antonapoulos back with him. Again, it is striking how little reciprocation Antonapoulos exhibits. Nevertheless, Singer is never happier than when he is with his friend. When Singer returns from the trip, the fact that he does not tell any of the other main characters where he has been reminds us of the fact that he does not reciprocate their confidences. Indeed, seemingly every character in the novel—with the possible exception of Biff Brannon—confides in someone who does not reciprocally confide in him or her.

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