National Endowment of the Arts - The Big Read
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

by Carson McCullers

The dimensions of a work of art are seldom realized by the author until the work is accomplished.


  1. Carson McCullers took her novel's title from a poem by William Sharp. How does this title relate to the novel's five main characters? Why might McCullers have changed it from her original title, “The Mute”?
  2. Isolation and loneliness are key themes in the novel. How are they different? What are some of the ways the characters seek to alleviate their feelings of isolation and loneliness?
  3. The narrator describes the main characters as both ordinary and heroic. Do you agree?
  4. What fuels John Singer's devotion to his companion, Spiros Antonapoulos? How does Singer feel after Antonapoulos is sent to the asylum?
  5. Why would McCullers choose to tell us so little about Singer's past?
  6. Mick Kelly has an “inside room” and an “outside room.” What does this mean? Is this true for the other characters as well?
  7. How different is Dr. Copeland's view of the world from his daughter's? What does he want for Portia? Why does she reject her father's ideal?
  8. Why does Jake Blount try to find the person who wrote a Bible passage he saw on a wall? Is this passage significant in any way to Blount's socialist message?
  9. Why can't Biff Brannon confide in Singer? How does he feel after his wife's death?
  10. What is the role of religion in the novel? How does this affect the actions and beliefs of the characters, especially Jake and Dr. Copeland?
  11. How and to whom does each of the characters in the novel express love?
  12. Do you find the ending of the novel disheartening or hopeful?
  13. In what ways do the themes of the novel resonate with issues of class and race today?
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