Spiritual Isolation in Carson McCullers' The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

In analyzing the novel of Carson McCullers' The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, the author uses three Sociological Theories of Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckman on 'Socialization: The Internalization of Society', Presentation of Self in Everyday Life by Eving Goffman and Emile Durkheim's "Social Facts" and "Suicide" to probe on the motives and behavior of characters, the reasons of their loneliness, hatred, love, faith, inner conflict and their moral and spiritual isolation.

Only when he has achieved this degree of internalization is an individual a member of society. The process by which this is brought about by socialization, which may be thus be defined as the comprehensive and consistent introduction of an individual into the objective world of society or a sector of it. Primary socialization is the first socialization an individual undergoes which he becomes a member of society. Secondary socialization is any subsequent process that inducts an already socialized individual into new sectors of the objective world of his society.

It is at once evident that primary socialization is usually the most important one for an individual and that the basic structure of all secondary socialization has to resemble that of primary socialization. Every individual is born into an objective social structure within which he encounters the significant others who are in charge of his socialization. The significant others are imposed on him … The significant others who mediate this world to him modify it in the course of mediating it. It is noteworthy to say that all five major characters in the novel exhibit their own location in the social structure and also by virtue of their individual, biographically rooted idiosyncrasies. The coloration of the characters, their suffering and how they respond to it, whether social, emotional, psychological or mental is wholly affected by their significant others. Hence, traits like reticence or loquacity, prudence or tactlessness, contentment or discontentment, bitter resentment, rebelliousness or other characters of the parents or siblings may be absorbed.

Primary socialization involves emotional learning. Indeed, there is a good reason to believe that without such emotional attachment to significant others, the learning process would be difficult if not impossible .. The child identifies with the significant others in a variety of emotional ways.

What is important to consider is the fact that the individual not only takes on the roles and attitudes of others, but in the same process takes on their world. To be given an identity involves being assigned a specific place in the world. Because the identity is subjectively appropriated by the child or person (Mr. Singer, deaf-mute), so is the world is the world to this identity points.

Primary socialization creates in the child's consciousness a progressive abstraction from the roles and attitudes of specific others to roles and general. For example, in the internalization of norms, there is a progression, from Mick Kelly as boyish to Mick Kelly as ladylike, Bubber from childish to isolated child after he accidentally shot Baby.

After the primary socialization is internalized, it is the language that a child has to internalize. With language, and by means of it, various motivational and interpretative schemes are internalized as institutionally defined-wanting to act as a brave little boy, the word brave if internalized results to a brave boy and coward to a coward boy. This program both, the applicable and the anticipatory, differentiate one's identity from that of others- such as girls, slave boys or boys from another clan. Finally, there is internalization of rudiments of the legitimating apparatus.

Primary and secondary socialization are never total and never finished.

Goffman says that when an individual appears in the presence of others, there will usually be some reason for him to mobilize his activity so that it will convey an impression to others that is in his interests to convey.

He approaches the human being as an actor performing on stage. In summary, he explains that others seek to know who we are. We control our actions to give off the picture we want to give off; others will also seek to act to control the definition of the situation; a working consensus is created; ongoing interaction may question the picture and preventive tactics help preserve the interaction and keep actors from the embarrassment.

John Singer is the focal point of the other four main characters in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Chapters narrated from Singer's point of view open the and close the first and second parts of the novel. The deaf-mute, as the society or his secondary socialization has identified him, Singer is a silver engraver at a local jewelry store; for ten years he has lived with his close friend Spiros Antonapoulos, another deaf-mute. Singer never seems to realize that he puts almost all of the effort into his friendship with Antonapoulos, but he is happy in this obliviousness. After Antonapoulos is taken away to an insane asylum at the end of Part One, Singer grows very sad and lonely and moves in as a boarder with the Kelly family. Antonapalous is considered by Singer as his immediate significant other and that his actions are largely affected by his friend that led to his suicide when he learned of Antonapalous' death.

The second part chronicles the other characters' increasing dependence various presentation of themselves everyday to Singer. Each of them creates his or her own individual conception of who Singer is; because Singer himself can not speak, he can not refute or disillusion them. Singer demonstrates one of McCullers's main themes and one of her counter- themes, as he plays one role with Antonapoulos and another with the four other main characters. Singer's devotion to Antonapoulos is McCullers's means of exploring the human struggle to be loved and to express oneself. On the other hand, Singer is an object of such adoration and devotion from the other characters as he attracted all of them individually to share his silence and loneliness and yet finding solace or peace or even fulfillment when characters talk to him that they can not verbalize to others.

Mick, with her rebellious and courageous spirit as she moves from childhood into adolescence, is the other strong focal point of the narrative. There are more chapters devoted to Mick's point of view than to any other character in the novel. Mick, had serious ambitions of becoming a concert pianist when she grew up. Mick's attachment to music is important not only as a defining character trait but also because McCullers' musical sensibility shapes the entire structure of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter; indeed, she once referred to the book as a three-part fugue. Throughout the novel, music symbolizes Mick's energy and her pursuit of beauty; she stores it in the "inner room" of her mind, to which only she and Singer have access. Mick's plans to build a violin from scratch, for example, arise from her "inner room." Consequently, her frustration when the violin does not work is more violent than if the idea had been conceived in her "outer room" -the part of her that she allows to interact with the outside world. Her interaction with her family, especially to her siblings vary and much more different when she interacts with the other four major characters. She hates her sisters who are lazy. She continuously shows affection for Ralph and Bubber.

Mick is the most positive and hopeful character in the novel. The fact that Mick is a child at the beginning of the novel, it provides the opportunity to portray the funny and poignant moments that accompany Mick's coming of age. At her worst, Mick frightens her little brother Bubber into running away after he accidentally shoots Baby in the head with a BB gun; at her best, she heroically offers to quit school so that she can work at Woolworth's to help her poverty-stricken family. At the end of the novel, Mick's final words indicate to us that her inner world remains intact and that she will continue to fight to achieve her ambitions. Her contact to real world allows her more to grow and mature with Harry as her first kiss and Mr. Singer as her long time "crush".

Biff Brannon is one of the more bizarre if not grotesque characters in the novel. Like Singer, he is distanced, observant, and quiet influenced by his past. However, none of Biff's observations cohere into any greater insight or concept of humanity; instead, they stand as isolated, unconnected fragments that offer us only puzzling and contradictory impulses that are never satisfactorily explained. When we see Biff interact with his wife, Alice, at the beginning of the novel, it is clear that the two do not feel any great love for one another after fifteen years of marriage. We also learn that Biff is impotent, though we are never told if this condition is just a problem he has in his relations with Alice or whether it extends to other women as well. Throughout the novel we perceive that Biff also has a strong desire to have children of his own; he wishes that Mick and his niece, Baby, were his own children.

Biff clearly has unresolved sexual anxieties, but their exact nature is never made clear. He keeps all the parts of his life compartmentalized-the past from the present, his life upstairs in his room from his life downstairs in the restaurant, and his marital relationship from his sexual life. At one point, we learn that Biff chivalrously beat up his sister-in-law's husband when he bragged about beating her; yet after Alice dies, Biff starts to sew and use his wife's perfume, expressing an unexpected feminine side to his personality. No one explains or integrates these conflicting impulses, which leaves us to assume that Biff himself is unable to resolve these inner conflicts.

Dr. Benedict Copeland is perhaps the most noble character in the entire story, as his name suggests of goodness, as a black man who has made many personal sacrifices to devote his entire life's work to furthering the education and uplift of the black community. Dr. Copeland went to the North as a young man to get a college education, and then came back to the South to put his education to good use among the impoverished black community. He speaks very carefully and articulately, never once using the colloquial slang that characterizes the speech of the other black characters, such as his daughter, Portia, and his son Willie. Dr. Copeland feels a constant frustration with what he perceives as the ignorance of black people and their blind acceptance of an inferior societal position-a clear parallel to Jake Blount's frustration with the ignorance of lower-class workers. Dr. Copeland feels that education and strong teachers and leaders are the best means of combating black ignorance and poverty, but he is unable to find anyone of his own race who can help him with his goals. Dr. Copeland constantly feels alienated from both his own family and the broader black community, largely due to his radical views. Dr. Copeland's children have largely accepted the position white society has given them; all of them except Portia are afraid to even come to his house to visit because they know he will chastise them for the choices they have made in their lives.

Dr. Copeland, like Jake Blount, is a Marxist, but he does not have the same confused conception of the theory's implementation that Blount does. At the end of Part Two, when the two men finally discuss their political views, their personal, educational, and racial differences make it almost impossible for them to communicate; as a result, neither recognizes the other as a fellow reformer. Dr. Copeland's brand of Marxism is so highly intellectualized that he communicates his theory no more effectively than Jake does with his drunken rambling. Jake is a wanderer who comes to town with confused and passionate plans for a socialist revolt. He drinks almost constantly for the first few weeks he is in town, spending almost all his time at Biff Brannon's New York Café. Once Jake meets Singer and decides that Singer, like him, "knows," he stays in town and gets a job at a local carnival. Of all the characters, Jake is the most prone to violent outbursts and genuine mental instability-his speech is never constant in tone, changing from intellectual to crass to boisterous to rage at a moment's notice. He is constantly consumed with his desire to see workers rise up in revolt; the only time he ceases to think about how to achieve his misguided socialist reforms is when he drinks himself into a stupor.

Jake is also the least sensitive of all of the characters, and he is no expert at personal interaction. All of the other main characters have other friends, acquaintances, or family outside of their relationship with Singer, but Jake confides in nobody else except the deaf-mute. After Singer dies, Jake is blindingly angry that he has spent so much time telling his dreams and plans to a man who is now dead. At the end of the novel, Jake leaves town to search for another person who will share his views and collaborate with him in his plans for violent revolt and revolution.

Man's constant struggle and his success or defeat against moral and spiritual isolation is very vivid in the novel. Each of the five main characters strives to break out of his or her isolated existence. The reasons each character is isolated are very different: the deaf-mute John Singer can not communicate with most of the world because he can not speak; Mick Kelly can not communicate with anyone in her family because they do not share her intelligence and ambition; Biff Brannon is left alone when his wife dies; Dr. Copeland is alienated from his family and from other black people because of his education and viewpoints; Jake Blount is alone is his radical social viewpoints and in the fact that he is a newcomer in town.

The isolation from which each character suffers is a combination of personal and environmental factors. According to Emile Durkheim, society is composed of "organs" called social facts which are: A.) Material social facts such as 1.) society 2.) structural components of society like the church and state 3.) morphological components of society like population and housing and B.) Non Material social Facts like 1.) morality 2.) collective conscience 3.) collective representation and 4.) social currents which affects people the way they are. However, all of the characters feel profoundly alone in some sense or another, and all of them desperately need to communicate their feelings with somebody who understands them. All five, with the exception of Biff, confide in Singer the things that make them spiritually lonesome caused by the absence of religion or God. In contrast Portia, Willie and Highboy and other colored minor characters, Presbyterian members, find peace amidst black community persecution. Though it is never made clear, the only reason Biff does not discuss his personal conflicts with Singer is most likely because Biff himself is unable to articulate these personal conflicts. Regardless, Biff still finds Singer's presence comforting. After talking to Singer, the characters almost always feel soothed.

The novelist explores the idea that all people feel a need to create some sort of guiding principle or god. However, whatever each person conceives of in this godlike role is merely his or her own fantasy; it has no basis in reality, just as those who believe in God have no proof that He actually exists. Singer becomes a pseudo-religious figure for the main characters of the novel; they believe he has infinite and unending wisdom about many things, and they turn to him in times of trouble, constantly asking him to help them achieve their goals and assuage their fears and doubts.

Each character creates a different god in Singer. For Mick, Singer is a man who feels as she does about music and whom she can ask very personal questions-things she has never said to anyone before. For Dr. Copeland, Singer is an the only enlightened white man he has ever met, the only one who understands the Doctor's burning passion to achieve justice for black people in the world. For Blount, Singer is a man who shares his deep concern about the importance of socialist revolution and the eradication of capitalism. For Biff, Singer is, like Biff himself, a quiet and astute observer of the human condition who ponders many things in great depth.

In reality, however, Singer is none of these things; he is merely an ordinary, intelligent man who only wants to be with his friend Antonapoulos. Singer can not understand why all these other people come to him for advice on topics with which he has no expertise or even familiarity. It is ironic that Singer-a character the others blindly make out to be a sort of god-is just as prone to the same blind faith, which we see in his love for Antonapoulos. Singer believes that Antonapoulos is a wise, kindhearted person, and he worships his friend unremittingly. Meanwhile, it is clear to us that all the evidence suggests Antonapoulos is actually coarse, selfish, and lazy. In the end, we see that all the major characters are deluding themselves by believing only what they wish about John Singer. Nonetheless, the very fact that they believe it gives them peace.

Heroism surfaces most overtly in the novel in the characters of John Singer and of Mick, the least self-absorbed of the major characters and seemingly the only ones capable of feeling genuine, unselfish love for another person. The love Singer feels for Antonapoulos demonstrates the altruism of Singer's nature: he is capable of loving someone completely without receiving any true reciprocation whatsoever. Mick also shows herself to be capable of loving someone for reasons that are not at all self-interested: she feels a deeply affectionate love for her younger brother Bubber, and she continues to feel this way even when he distances himself from her.

By the end of the novel, Mick emerges as the most heroic character when she gives up school to take on a job to help support her family. She is determined not to give up on her dreams; indeed, she is the only character who does not let Singer's death negatively affect the course her life takes. After Singer dies, Dr. Copeland's health fails and he is taken to his father-in-law's farm; Blount leaves town; Biff remains in the same monotonous existence. Mick is the only one of the major characters who maintains positive plans for the future: she is firmly resolved to continue saving for a piano, despite the fact that it will take many hours at Woolworth's before she can afford one. For Mick, there is a light at the end of the tunnel that no other character-not even Singer-sees.

Both Singer and Blount experience dreams that either are indicative of important aspects of their personalities or support some greater theme in the novel as a whole. Singer dreams that he sees Antonapoulos at the top of a flight of stairs, kneeling and holding something up in his hand. Singer is kneeling behind Antonapoulos, while Mick, Biff, Jake, and Dr. Copeland are all kneeling behind Singer. This worshipful image perfectly depicts the way that the characters feel in the story: Singer worships Antonapoulos, whereas the other four characters worship Singer. The dream represents the dynamic of the relationships in the novel as a whole.

Jake has a nightmare at the end of the book that he has had several times before. He dreams that he is in a crowd and that he is carrying a covered basket. He feels anxious because he does not know to whom to give the basket. This dream demonstrates Blount's desire to find kindred spirits who also believe in socialism, so that he can give his "basket" of beliefs to them. In the dream, Blount has been carrying the burdensome basket for a long time; in life, his socialist beliefs have burdened him for a long time as well, as there are few people with whom he can share them to relieve his thoughts.

Singer is a symbol of hope throughout the entire narrative: he embodies Mick's hopes that someday she will travel and become a famous musician, he embodies Biff's hope that he will someday find enlightenment, he embodies Dr. Copeland's hope that someday the black race will have justice, and he embodies Jake's hope that soon workers in America will understand that they are oppressed and will fight for their rights. Each character projects these qualities onto Singer, who comes to stand for all that the characters believe in their own minds. This blank-slate quality to Singer is the reason the others believe in him as they would a god: he can not directly respond to their pleas, but the mere fact that they believe in him enough to confide in him in the first place affords them at least a small measure of peace.

In conclusion, the major characters as well as the minor characters are greatly influenced by their past, their families, and people they met. Both primary socialization and secondary socialization spell out the future of their lives. Their isolation, resentment, bitterness, rebelliousness or meekness are caused according to Durkheim by many factors such as the material and non material social facts such as society, environment, church, state, morality, collective conscience, collective representation and social currents.

Source by Wilfredo M. Valois

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