The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter | Critical Review by Hubert Creekmore

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.
This section contains 660 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Hubert Creekmore

SOURCE: "The Lonely Search for Love," in The New York Times Book Review, July 8, 1951, p. 5.

In the following review, Creekmore faults McCullers' later works for not measuring up to the standards of her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.

The appearance of an "omnibus" of Carson McCullers' work should be a signal for an estimate, much fuller than can be attempted here, of her achievement in fiction. The three novels of this highly praised young author were reviewed on publication; the novella of the title [The Ballad of the Sad Café] and the six short stories appear in book form for the first time. Together, they indicate a specialized talent for a sharp, controlled, revealing style of fiction which since its debut has, by narrowing the field of observation, never matched the quality of the first novel.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is more abundant in emotion and appeal, more complex and varied in character and development, more concerned with human reality, broader in all dimensions than any of the later work. After it, The Member of the Wedding, from which the successful play was made, seems a more delicate and extended treatment of a section of the first novel. The parallels are obvious: Mickey and Frankie are daughters of widowed watchmakers, their households and experiences are similar, and their emergence from childhood-adolescence much the same. If it seems a long footnote to The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, at the same time it shows the increase of a humorous tenderness in Mrs. McCullers' writing; but along with it, a tendency to digression, notable in the rhapsody of Frankie's walk about town.

Reflections in a Golden Eye, in spite of the cool clarity and ease of the prose, remains a freak, not only in its characters but in the fact that it fails to make human beings of the characters, and their actions fail to reveal any commentary on or resolution of the theme. The fine balance of neuroses typical of her work has here become intensified and purposeless, leaving only the balance of prose, and ends with no more moralartistic effect than an exhaustive news report.

The six short stories, interesting enough in their way though not important work, are like variations on the constant theme of loneliness. Only "Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland," an amusing anecdote, manages somewhat to escape the theme. "The Jockey" gives a glimpse of loneliness for a friend. "A Domestic Dilemma" exposes the loneliness of a breaking marriage, an "immense complexity of love." Beyond the theme of separation and loneliness, however, there are in these stories other hinted, symbolic revelations.

The novella, The Ballad of the Sad Café, suggests that Mrs. McCullers is working toward a fusing of her anguished major theme with the warm humor so well used in The Member of the Wedding. Yet the anguish turns into despair, for it is shown that, regardless of the object of love, the beloved hates the lover. Miss Amelia, the manlike cafe owner, who never loved anything but her hunchbacked cousin Lymon, is forced into a triangle with her former husband, Macy, who, loving her, has let her drive him to ruin. Fleeing her love, Lymon shows in the culminating first-fight that he prefers to be spurned by Macy, and they go away together.

The structure and writing of this work, imitating ballad simplicity, often fall into archaic self-consciousness—"So do not forget this Marvin Macy, as he is to act a terrible part in the story which is yet to come"—and like The Member of the Wedding this novella seems too attenuated. It has, however, its own queerly ingratiating tone, an outstanding quality in much of Mrs. McCullers' work—a dreamy unreality not altogether created by the strange characters. Possibly this forecasts later fiction in which the integration and humanity of her first novel may merge with the gentle humor and sympathy for eccentric types which pervades the later work.

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This section contains 660 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Hubert Creekmore