Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Lonely, Restless Heart-- A Hunter?

"You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." St. Augustine

I have always wondered if Carson McCullers knew and studied St Augustine??

Recently I re-read McCuller's novel, THE HEART IS THE LONELY HUNTER. What a story it is!

Years ago when I was working more intensely with literary works, I remember coming across a disparaging comment made about McCullers' writing -- it was made by Flannery O'Connor-- another southern writer. However, for me, I must admit that I find McCuller's Hunter a compelling story. The intricate weaving of such troubled characters around a deaf-mute, John Singer, makes this story a masterpiece.

When one re-reads a novel, one already knows how it is going to end. This is the case with me and this novel. I have read it many times, especially when I taught it. I know the story. Why re-read it?

I re-read for lots of reasons, but one reason would be to more fully grasp an understanding of characters like John Singer and Mick Kelly. There are many characters in this novel and creating so many could have been a tangled mess, but McCullers wisely keeps it all together with John Singer and Mick Kelly.

In a later blog I will deal with Mick Kelly. This blog with center on John Singer--the deaf-mute of the story.

Because I chose numerous literary works that had Christ figures, the students of the past would accuse me of being too artificial in suggesting that certain characters are Christ figures. Jim Casy in The Grapes of Wrath is an obvious one, especially with such a name and initials JC. Melville's Billy Budd would be another. And although one on the edge, I would fight for McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. There are more.

So I am attracted to McCullers' deaf-mute, Singer, as a Christ figure. All those troubled characters come to him for comfort. They know that Singer will listen, even though Singer can NOT hear.

The troubled people who regularly spend time with Singer are: A very educated black man who is a medical doctor, Benedict Copeland, a strange conglomeration of characteristics centered in a resturant owner, Biff Brannon, and an often drunken vagabond, who strives for equality of peoples and fair government. All these individuals pour their hearts out to John Singer, a deaf-mute, and I might add all of them feel they have been heard. Whether or not there are any resolutions to the problems is another matter, but the troubled individuals do feel some sort of comfort and ease.

One of the very first words that St. Benedict uses in his Rule is the word: listen. St Benedict uses a strange phrase when he talks about listening-- listen with the ear of your heart-- he says. This reading of McCullers' Hunter really made me think about listening with the ear of your heart-- listening with the ear of your heart.

I would say that Singer possessed qualities that would make him a good monk -- if not a Christ figure!!
A great listener he was!

The only problem that still remains is how could a character like Singer take his own life at the end of the story and still be a Christ figure? Is that possible?

I must admit that I struggle with this. However, I do not feel that Singer's final decision does not destroy his kind and compassionate manner and life style.

So I leave this question to my readers: What do you think about McCullers character, John Singer? Is he fit for a Christ figure? Does he redeem anyone? Is he monastic?

Have we come full circle with the lonely hunter and St. Augustine?

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