Year Published: 1940
In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together.
This book is nothing short of brilliant. McCullers paints a vivid and heartbreaking portrait of loneliness and the human need for companionship. But the characters are in search of more than simply another person to pass the time with. They are desperate for someone to validate their *self*--their uniqueness, their own personal searches for justice, for beauty, for happiness.
The plot interweaves the stories of five major characters. Mick Kelly is a girl growing into a woman, a teenager in a family of six kids who run a boarding house. She has a gift for music but no money to explore her talent, and nobody to share it with. Jake Blount is an alcoholic drifter with Communist ideals, angry at the society America has become and at the complacency of the majority of it's citizens. Benedict Mady Copeland is a Negro doctor who is not content only to administer care to his people, but wants justice and empowerment for them as well. Biff Brannon runs a cafe in town where he can watch over his patrons and puzzle over ther behavior and his own feelings toward them. All four of them are drawn inexplicably to John Singer, a deaf mute who can read lips and therefore "hear" all that they have to say, but can speak only through sign language, which none of them understand. In him they find understanding and acceptance, but he remains the loneliest of them all--his only true friend being another deaf mute who has been sent to an asylum.
The setting is a small southern town in the midst of the depression. The novel deals with deep themes, including racism, the rise of labor unions, poverty, and sexuality. This is all interspersed delicately through the character's stories and manages to add to the major theme of the book, which is about the human need for understanding and acceptance. This book is often sad--at times terribly so. The writing is gorgeous--for example: "...in a swift radiance of illumination he saw a glimpse of human struggle and of valor. Of the endless fluid passage of humanity through endless time. And of those who labor and of those who--one word--love." This is probably my favorite book of all time, and I think everyone should read it.
Challenges: Read it Again, What's in a Name
Book a Week # 53
Date Read: 11/20/09