The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Part Two, Chapter 5
Mick has started learning to play the piano. She offers a classmate of hers, Delores Brown, her lunch money in exchange for piano lessons. One day Mick comes home to find Bubber and a neighborhood boy, Spareribs, sitting on the sidewalk. Spareribs has his new rifle with him; the gun had been his father's and was given to him when his father passed away. Spareribs warns Bubber not to mess with the trigger, as the gun is loaded with BBs. As the kids sit on the sidewalk, Harry Minowitz goes into his house next door. For a joke, Mick throws up an arm and says "Heil!" but Harry does not find it funny. He disappears into his house, and Mick immediately feels bad for offending him.
Then Baby Wilson comes out from her house across the street, dressed up in a little pink dance costume with a pink pocketbook. Bubber calls to Baby, but she does not answer and continues down the street. Spareribs comments that she is going to Biff Brannon's place to get candy, since he is her uncle and gives her candy for free. Bubber comments that he wants a butterfly-colored costume so he can dance around in the streets like Baby does. Spareribs calls Bubber a sissy, but Mick warns that Bubber is tough and smart.
Baby comes back down the street, holding a box of popcorn candy. Bubber says that she looks pretty in her pink costume. He calls again to her to come over, and he holds the rifle up to his shoulder to pretend to shoot at her. Unfortunately, Bubber actually does pull the trigger by accident. Baby crumples down to the sidewalk, her head bloody. Bubber screams.
Soon a crowd of people gathers around, and an ambulance comes and takes Baby to the hospital. Baby is not dead, but her skull is fractured. Afterward, no one can find Bubber. Mick knows he must be hiding in the treehouse in the back year, so she goes there and indeed he is there. She tells Bubber that he should stay hidden in the treehouse because, she says, he has in fact killed Baby and could therefore go to prison. Mick lies in order to scare Bubber into never shooting a gun again. She plans to go back to the treehouse in an hour to tell him she was lying, at which point she thinks he will have thought about it and will feel bad enough.
Mick goes back into the house, where her parents are worried and nervous. Lucile Wilson and Biff came over. Lucile says that she is not going to sue the Kellys, but that she wants them to pay for Baby's hospital bills and all related costs. Mick suddenly feels guilty and goes back outside to talk to Bubber again, but he is no longer in the treehouse.
Mick runs and tells her family that they better start looking for Bubber. She suggests he might have gone to Portia's house, and indeed they find a note he left at Portia's house saying that he went to "Florada." Mick knows that this is a ruse to throw them off, and that in reality Bubber is probably on the road that goes toward Atlanta—the only other faraway place he has ever heard of.
They find Bubber on the road and bring him home. He screams with anger and distress. Only John Singer's glance is able to calm Bubber down. Even after Mick tells Bubber she lied to him in the treehouse, he refuses to let her touch him. From that day on, the family calls Bubber by his real name, George. He becomes a serious little boy and goes around by himself all the time. He and Mick are never again as close as they were before.
Throughout the novel, we get a constant sense that destruction of some sort or another is always imminent. The monotony of the quiet lives of the characters is interrupted by a number of episodes of violence that subtly build to cumulative effects. The violent act of shooting Baby, for instance, is compounded by Mick's emotional violence when she tells Bubber that he killed Baby; the episode ultimately affects him so deeply that it completely changes his personality. This pattern of monotony and outburst is indicative of a larger interest in the violence of the individual personality in tandem with the violence of economic and social systems.
Just as so many other characters are disappointed by circumstances beyond their control, Lucile sees her dreams for her child shattered once Baby is shot in the head. Baby's hair has to be shaved off, which leaves her in her not being able to dance in the soirée at the end of the year. In addition, Baby becomes apathetic at expression and elocution classes after the injury, causing Lucile to fear that her daughter will never again be the obedient little girl she once was.
The fact that Singer is the only person able to calm George in his hysteria is another indication of Singer's mysterious religious significance. Recalling Bible stories in which Jesus heals people with his touch, Singer can apparently heal people simply with his presence. There is some mysterious appeal to Singer that leads others to deify him.
The fact that Harry does not laugh at Mick's Nazi joke highlights the tension in that time between Jews and non-Jews. Mick does not yet understand the severity of the situation; she herself has nothing against Jewish people and she likes Harry quite a bit. It is notable that though the novel takes place during the period directly preceding World War II, very little of the novel is concerned with the war at all—the narrative focuses intensely on the inner lives of the five main characters. In an earlier chapter, Biff, while sorting through his newspapers, comments casually about the Munich conference. The fact that Biff is able to mention without reflection an event that has huge global political significance and repercussions shows how distanced he is from the world around him.
A parallel emerges between Bubber and Mick in this chapter, as we see that they are both attracted to beauty. Mick is drawn to the beauty of music, whereas Bubber is drawn to color, such as the pristine image of Baby walking down the street dressed in pink. This is the first time in the narrative we learn that Mick has a great deal of respect for Bubber and that she thinks he is going to be very smart and interesting as he matures. Until now, we merely see Bubber as one of two children Mick must look after during the day. Throughout this chapter, however, George's identity is more fully developed; indeed, the incident with Baby irrevocably changes George personality and the adult he will become. Indeed, to a certain degree, it marks the end of his childhood.
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