(The review of ‘The Heart is a lonely hunter’ by Carson McCullers)
“The way I need you is a loneliness I can not bear.”
Male whales attract their partners by making voices called ‘songs’. The pitch of the sound is normally below 40 Hz, inaudible to human ears. Female whales of each kind will recognise songs of their own kin.
Now, there is believed to be an individual whale (only one of its kind) whose voice has been heard in Pacific Ocean at 52 hertz. Ever since 80s, his lonely songs have been heard – seeking, asking uselessly, year after year, for a companion in an ocean full of whales.
This image of this lonely animal is as close as I can get to creating an impression of the book.
Four characters in this novel – a teenager girl, a diner, a doctor, a labour worker aren’t much better than 52hertz whale. They too have their
songs sentiments and they too have gone a long time of their life in lonely hunt for someone who can understand them. For different reasons, they are all very alone.
The diner is struggling with loneliness of a childless, unhappy marriage, the labour worker is too aware of injustices dealt to him by an unfair capitalist society, the black doctor has his idealism which isolates him from his own family and the teenager girl is coming to terms with dreams shatter by reality.
They know they could feel better if they could talk it out with someone. And they are trying to find someone. But since they feel so passionately about these things; when talking about the subject they take offence at the slightest hint of criticism or suggestion to contrary, which comes naturally with most listeners. They see in each- other only differences which keep them from opening up. They are suspicious of each-other, of being misunderstood.
No, they can’t trust any person – they need a special listener, someone not unlike a humanoid puppet with its head set into constant nodding motion, so that they can talk uninterrupted and relax with submissive agreement they find in the listener. It just doesn’t occur to them to try to be for others what seek for themselves.
Enter our mute deaf protagonist, named ironically, Singer. Other characters find him the much wished for listener – he, who can’t hear. Their eyes saw what their heart wanted to see, each saw him as holding her/his own opinions. Singer could understand them by reading lips but he didn’t correct them while they spoke their heart. Being a good friend might just mean just that, being a patient listener, and Singer is a natural. Like Jesus he seems to be taking away their pain – not by a miracle, but by simple innocent act of listening.
But he is no Jesus. His fate resembles that of the 52-hertz whale more than others. He has come to the city after his close friend and only family for several years, Antonapoulous, another deaf mute, has fallen mentally ill and had to be taken to mental asylum.
And so at the moment, he is the loneliest of them all. He too suffers from this same secret burning desire. He too is surrounded by people who can’t understand him. He wants to talk, to be heard – but none of his new friends understand the language of hand signs, the only way he can communicate. His new friends, too happy at finding in him their salvation, they had been hunting all life for, are blissfully ignorant of his loneliness, that the rescuer might wish to be rescued too.
Anybody can write deaf-mutes but it takes a pure genius to bring out the silence that haunts their and everybody’s life.
“ His hands were a torment to him. They would not rest. They twitched in his sleep, and sometimes he awoke to find them shaping the words in his dreams before his face.”