Holy hell, I can’t believe it took me this long to explore the work of McCullers. In Heart, she weaves a tale of friendship and loneliness while tackling big issues like class, race, and poverty. It begins (and ultimately ends) with the two mutes, Antonapolous and Singer, who live together and exist happily in their routine for ten years until the Greek’s cousin has him committed to an insane asylum. Singer strikes out alone, walking the town on crisp cold winter nights, and finds himself a beacon for others to unburden themselves to him. Singer occasionally makes the journey to visit Antonapolous, weighted down with gifts that are lightly ignored, frantically signing to the Greek the myriad of things that have occurred to him. Singer is only able to release his thoughts to Antonapolous, and when he discovers his friend has died, promptly heads home to shoot himself in the chest. The book wraps up with sections on how each of his friends deal with Singer’s death: Jake leaves town to preach the truth (communism) elsewhere; Doctor Copeland bumps along in the mule-drawn wagon to his father-in-law’s farm to recover from illness, Singer’s death, and his rage at the lopping off of his son’s feet in prison; Mick Kelly struggles with the ability to be creative (making music) in a world where she works as a shop girl (a “trap – the store, then home to sleep, and back to the store again”) at age fourteen; Biff the shopkeeper continues on as usual, discovers he is no longer in love with Mick, raises the awning for another day.
McCullers details the poor white neighborhoods near the mills, the poor black neighborhoods, the tensions between races when in reality man is only separated by class (Dr. Copeland goes off on a grand Marxist rant to this effect: “to Karl Marx it seemed that being one of the millions of poor people or one of the few rich was more important to a man than the color of his skin.”) While Copeland and Jake Blount are initially wary of each other, they discover a common bond in their belief in Marx (Copeland has even named one of his sons “Karl Marx” although he goes by “Buddy” instead).
Mick is a complicated character, in transition from tomboy into young woman, gripped by delirium when she hears music that stirs her soul (Beethoven’s 3rd, covertly heard sitting outside a stranger’s house when it played on their radio). She tends to her younger brothers, fights neighborhood kids, throws a party for the people in her freshman class that she wants to befriend, falls semi-in-love(?) with next door neighbor Harry.
One of Jake’s rants against capitalism:
“He sees the world as it is and he looks back thousands of years to see how it all come about. He watches the slow agglutination of capital and power and sees its pinnacle today. He sees America as a crazy house. He sees how men have to rob their brothers in order to live. He sees children starving and women working sixty hours a week to get to eat. He sees a whole damn army of unemployed and billions of dollars and thousands of miles of land wasted. He sees war coming. He sees how when people suffer just so much they get mean and ugly and something dies in them. But the main thing he sees is that the whole system of the world is built on a lie. And although it’s as plain as the shining sun – the don’t-knows have lived with that lie so long they just can’t see it.”
a bit of Doctor Copeland’s intense Marx lecture:
“We in this room have no private properties. Perhaps one or two of us may own the homes we live in, or have a dollar or two set aside – but we own nothing that does not contribute directly toward keeping us alive. All that we own is our bodies. And we sell our bodies every day we live. We sell them when we go out in the morning to our jobs and when we labor all the day. We are forced to sell at any price, at any time, for any purpose. We are forced to sell our bodies so that we can eat and live. And the price which is given us for this is only enough so that we will have the strength to labor longer for the profits of others. Today we are not put up on platforms and sold at the courthouse square. But we are forced to sell our bodies so that we can eat and live. We have been freed from one kind of slavery only to be delivered into another. Is this freedom? Are we yet free men?”