Friday, February 6

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

The swiftness with which the days have gone by is out of my grasp lately that it is no longer possible to sit down and process the everyday things. Time just seems to come and fleet by, that before I even have the moment to reflect on something important and understand the underlying significance of that reflection so that I can then write about it at length, all is gone and suddenly it’s February of 2009. Sometimes, however, I feel that time is in a standstill, that no matter how I try to delude myself out it, I seem to be warped in it for a very long time and I am locked up in that peculiar capsule forever, that when I awake, all my efforts of trying to get on with the times and accomplish useful things as a human being turns out to be an absolutely thwarted endeavor.

Anyway, the upside of being warped into time, at least these past weeks, is that I had been able to finish reading a couple of books. One was The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho, a gift given to me by my officemate last Christmas; and the other one which I just put down, is a very old book I picked up from Booksale many moons ago and has sat gathering dust on the shelf, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers. I would like to talk a bit about the latter. A caveat though, by a bit I mean that I might be inclined to go off-track with my thoughts again, seeing that I am notoriously known to start off with crystal-clear head and wind up with various random inane things that I just mentally disintegrate into a drunken stupor.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a study of the lives of five different people, a deaf-mute John Singer, a strange girl Mick Kelly who is faced with the predicament of growing up and taking responsibilities early on while obsessively nursing a passion for music and its magnitude to which her whole young existence lies; a crass but well-read alcoholic Jake Blount, an idealistic black doctor Benedict Copeland who struggles to be respected in the white world and is frustrated by the helplessness and blind ignorance of his own people; and Biff Brannon, a restaurateur who has lost his love for his wife, but chooses to feel compassion for the deformed.

Although the novel focuses on John Singer and the effect he has on the other central characters, it was mostly through the girl Mick Kelly that the story is viewed and unfolds. These five characters lead lives that are often mired by feelings of isolation and loneliness, an inner torment to be understood and accepted for who they are and what they think, and the apparent lack of reciprocity for how they feel towards the people nearest to them, thus worsening their silent agony.

Without going into the finer details, these four people’s lives began to revolve around the deaf-mute John Singer, with whom they each had private interactions. John Singer is a kindly man who unselfishly shared his time to listen to each of them on their visits. His benevolence reached out beyond skin color at a time when colored Americans were discriminated against, as reflected by the black doctor Benedict Copeland who remembers him as the only white man who offered a light to his cigarette on a rainy night. The fact that he was deaf and therefore never learned to speak was overlooked by people, who were increasingly becoming curious of him, and on whom he unwittingly left an impression of being a mystic, someone short of a god who, while perpetually silent, harbors the strength and dignity they can trust their burdens on to. In him, they felt strangely comforted, and saw the chance to heal and liberate their souls, to speak freely of whatever was inside their convalescent hearts while being aware that he does not hear. It was if his silence was answer enough to all their questions.

The altruistic way with which he shared his friendship with them, however, concealed the fact that he was just an ordinary man, a man who misses a dear friend locked up in a mental asylum. He tried to visit him on a few occasions, at one time desperately thinking that he could turn his back from the friends he had begun to like and enjoy, if only to be able to live with Antonapolous in that odd sanctuary.

The dear friend he cared so truly about was in fact a slothy Greek deaf-mute he had lived with in a flat for ten years. At the beginning of the novel, everything seemed roses between them, two friends walking hand in hand, doing things together each single day, and getting by in the evenings with simple things like playing chess or going to the movies. Then Antonopoulos begins to act strangely after falling ill, often appearing dirty and disheveled, deliberately stealing food and things, hitting at people he didn’t like in the streets, and acting lewdly in public, that he was always to be found in the town court for the many infringements he had done. John Singer was always there to redeem him, even when his savings had been used up to settle and keep his friend out of jail. Eventually, against Singer’s wishes, Antonopoulos was committed to a mental asylum by a distant cousin.

It was the start of great distress and loneliness for Singer, who felt a void in his life when his friend had gone. But Antonopolous was never interested in giving back the kindness shown to him. However, because of his unremitting love for his friend, John Singer tried to ignore the bad things, and only remembered the good things in him, which were in truth, very few and far in between. The next time he tried to see Antonopoulos in the asylum, John Singer learned that his friend had died of an illness. He went home despondent, and killed himself.

His tragedy bore different circumstances on the friends he left behind. The black doctor had to give up his profession as he spent his remaining days suffering tuberculosis in the care of the very same people whose ignorance he abhorred, disillusioned of his failure to make a change. The alcoholic Blount left the town in hope to meet someone who would be willing to sit through his outbursts again, much like the deaf-mute did. Biff Brannon lost his wife to a fatal surgery , had slowly began to find himself, and get in touch with his unrealized passions, while remaining to be a quiet and astute observer of the things that go around his world, or at least his cafe. Mick Kelly finds a measure of peace and hope in that she is resolved to achieve things for herself and her family, keeping the music within her inner world, and sharing whatever was left of the selfless desire to be that was unsuspectingly imparted to her by the dead John Singer.

A peculiar fascination about human nature had lingered on me long after I put it down. I am concerned in the central theme that is about the desolation we each feel in our hearts, especially when we try to be understood and accepted, but are not. That others, even the ones we love the most, would not always share the same fervor we have in our hearts and that we are like square pegs to their circles. We trudge the earth, among a sea of souls who are themselves wandering far and wide, to be able to find, or hunt, for that familiarity we can clench close to our hearts and forever latch on to. Thus, the heart is a lonely hunter. But what if it's suddenly gone or taken away from us?

I believe this is when we turn to divine intervention. Silence becomes our earnest friend and companion, when words are not spoken to affirm what we think. Sometimes, it's a fallen leaf, or a whiff of air, or intimation of music, or a gentle smile from a little child that come to answer us in our deepest human longings. I was touched by the scene where Mick Kelly, hiding among the bushes in a neighbor’s yard one night, listened to the radio and heard Beethoven for the first time. Being a non-believer, she had an epiphany, suddenly convinced that indeed there is a God who can create such beauty that can well up her eyes with tears and melt her young, volatile heart.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...