Chapter 3 focuses on Dr. Copeland. The Doctor takes John Singer with him on his medical rounds about town, showing him all the sickness and poverty that he treats on a daily basis. Dr. Copeland has been increasingly busy of late; one night after coming home, he feels sick and feverish and goes to bed. He is soon wakened by Portia, who comes in and tells him that Willie has been arrested. Willie and a boy named Junebug got in a fight over a stripper, Love Jones, at a local strip joint where Willie and Highboy went because they were bored. Dr. Copeland and Portia go to see Willie in the morning. In the next few days, Willie is convicted of attempted manslaughter and sent to a prison in the northern part of the state.
Dr. Copeland discovers that he has tuberculosis of the lungs. He is tired all the time. He speaks often with Singer about what he feels is his purpose in life—to educate his people. One day Portia comes to see Dr. Copeland and tells him that Grandpapa, her mother's father, is coming into town. Hamilton and Karl Marx (whom she calls "Buddy") are also going to be there. Portia invites her father to come to this family reunion, and he accepts.
That night as Dr. Copeland lies in bed, he remembers how he worked his way through school in the North and returned ten years later to become a doctor. He remembers the rage that would rise in him sometimes at the condition of the black people, and how one evening he took a hot poker from the hearth and struck Daisy because she did not share his rage. After that incident, Daisy moved out and took the children with her. He did not see them for a long time.
Dr. Copeland goes to the reunion, but all that Hamilton and Grandpapa and Portia will talk about are religious revelations. Dr. Copeland becomes angry because all the others conceive of God and angels as white people. He becomes so tense and angry that he cannot eat or drink or speak, so he leaves. The next morning, Dr. Copeland goes to talk to Singer, which eases him a little. But on his way out, Jake Blount bumps into him on the stairs and makes him angry again, even though Jake apologizes.
This chapter is told through Jake's point of view. Jake brings ale up to Singer and tells Singer that in his youth he used to want to be an evangelist, but then he got to know a woman named Miss Clara. After Jake met her, he began to read lots of books, which changed his outlook on life. He says that the poor people under a democracy have lived with the "lie" of equality so long that they cease to see the injustice inherent to the system. He tells Singer how he tried to assemble a group of people to riot and go on strike, but the group fell apart. Talking to Singer and drinking appear to be the only things that can soothe the constant rage Blount feels. Then Blount decides that being mad will not do any good, and that the best he can do is try to educate people.
On his way home Jake walks through an alley and sees an inscription—"Ye shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth"—written in red chalk on a wall. He writes beneath this message that whoever wrote those words should meet him there the next day at noon, or even the day after. Jake waits for two days but nobody appears. On the third day a rainstorm begins and the words wash away.
Singer says later in the narrative in a letter to Antonapoulos that Dr. Copeland works harder than anybody he has ever met. Indeed, Dr. Copeland's highly disciplined personality appears to support this claim. But the harsh and unforgiving aspects of his character have also driven away those who ought to be closest to him—his wife and children. Portia's invitation to the family reunion is one of many attempts she makes to draw Dr. Copeland back into the family. However, his worldview differs too greatly from those of his relatives, even those most closely related to him, for them ever to become close again. Willie's arrest is a further disappointment to Dr. Copeland—not only is Willie uneducated and unsuccessful (in his father's eyes, at least), he is now a convicted felon.
When The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter first appeared in 1940, Richard Wright, the author of Black Boy and Native Son, commented that the most impressive aspect of the novel was McCullers's ability to handle black characters with as much ease and justice as white characters. Portia always strongly expresses the need to communicate emotions and to remain unified against isolation, particularly the isolation of blacks from other blacks. Dr. Copeland, by contrast, expresses anger at the failure of blacks to demand their rights. To some degree, he accepts isolation from his own people for his education and views, along with the usual political and social isolation from white people.
It is somewhat surprising for us to learn that Dr. Copeland struck out against his wife, as he is not a violent person. He manages, even in situations in which he could easily become violent, to remain calm. He constantly advocates the importance of patience, and he tries in his own way to fight the evil he faces. The fact that Dr. Copeland could be so violent illustrates the deep rage and helplessness he feels for his own condition and the condition of blacks in the South in general.
Blount's passion for the socialist movement is somewhat confused; his plans are elaborated most fiercely when he is drunk. He will fight to defend a social reform until he falls unconscious, but neither he nor the workingmen with whom he occasionally quarrels understand what they are truly fighting about. The workers' resistance to and fear of revolution puzzles and infuriates Blount, as he assumes that a worker, in rejecting social protest, inherently rejects progress.
The Biblical words written on the wall interest Blount because he thinks that the person who would write such words might also aid him in his search for other people who are interested in riot or revolt. It is fitting that the line is violent, as we have already witnessed Blount's wild and occasionally violent nature.