What Does It Take to Be a Hero?

Hero a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. In many stories, there is a hero. Someone who swoops in to save the day at the last minute; someone who everyone looks up to. At the very beginning of this course, the class as a whole made a list of characteristics of a “true” southern woman. Some of these characteristics included how she talks or acts, the ability to cook, being strong willed, and even how she dresses. Some of these characteristics could make her be portrayed as a hero. Throughout Carson McCullers’ novel, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, we are introduced to a “heros” of the sort. Throughout the novel, we were able to view a lot of these “heroic” characteristics in many of the characters as well. Many of these “heroic” acts fail due to lack in other parts of their personalities clashing with their intentions, but hey, an “E” for effort right?. The main question is why can’t many of these characters fulfil their “hero” status? A specific example, John Singer, who is the main character in this novel. He is the one person people seem to rely on, but in the very end, he could not even save himself.

Being a hero comes with many responsibilities. For Singer, he had that and more. Singer is deaf by birth, but a mute by choice. He is described as ‘…tall. His eyes had a quick, intelligent expression. He was always immaculate and soberly dressed.’ He lives in a rural town where he does not necessarily fit in. “The rich thought that he was rich and the poor considered him a poor man like themselves. And as there was no way to disprove these rumors they grew marvelous and very real. Each man described the mute as he wished him to be. (2.7.101) He doesn’t talk much, keeps his hands in pockets, and tries to stay out of everyone’s way for the most part. You would think he would have the smallest impact on the lives of the people in his community. Surprisingly, people are drawn to him because of the fact that he is silent. Singer becomes this open diary for the people around him to project all their feelings and problems towards, but why does he have to be everyone’s hero? The people who seek out Singer are looking for a solution to their problems; they desperately want to understand what’s going on around them and within them. In this way, Singer is ironically turned into a false messiah by his followers. But who’s going to be him messiah?

We don’t know much about Singers upbringing, but what we do find out as a reader is that most of his problems are caused by himself. His refusal to communicate to the characters, and even the reader, leads us to not really get to know him on a more personal level. In fact, we only get to hear him speak once throughout the whole story: “I do not mean that they work at their jobs all day and night but that they have much business in their minds always that does not let them rest. They come up to my room and talk to me until I do not understand how a person can open and shut his or her mouth so much without being weary. (2.7.67) This letter he writes to his only friend, Antonapoulos, shows how uninterested he is in all the visitors he has. Why doesn’t he chose to tell all these people to leave him alone? Again, he is mute by choice, and is very capable of voicing his opinion (clearly). An old saying: “a closed mouth doesn’t get fed”, but it also gives everyone the opportunity to think that he is in fact, interested. This unintentional hero status is obviously never what he wanted, but what if the tables were turned and he actually spoke his mind on all the mess he has to hear on a daily?

Trying to flip the script on this can create endless possibilities for Singer. What if Antonapoulos never dies? What if Singer actually chose to associate himself with others and positively or negatively interact with his surroundings? He had plenty opportunity to start over and do just that with people just like him after losing the one person who he could and would communicate with. Antonapoulos is rude towards Singer and never once reciprocates any of the care and affection that Singer gives to him time and time again. This idea of someone being able to love and care for someone unconditionally and without expectation of reciprocation is repeated throughout the play and is one of Singer’s most admirable and note-worthy attributes. Singer relies on Antonapoulos so much, he not only is deaf and mute, but is blind to the fact that his friend is no good for him. Singer wants Antonapoulos to be his hero so badly, that he will literally put up with anything and do anything for him. It could be because he is not from the south, let alone America, that Antonapoulos lacks in the area of affection. He eventually becomes the reason for Singers decline and eventual and unfortunate death. Flipping the script, if he had reciprocated Singers love and affection, he would have probably lived a better life. Antonapoulos in no way is meant to be a hero in this situation.

Heros are meant to save the day. Singer did what he could, but eventually his unintentional heroism throughout this whole novel becomes the kryptonite of Superman. While Singer doesn’t seize the opportunity to start over fresh and possibly change his destined path, he does provide this chance to the other characters. We are left with a sliver of hope that Biff, Mick, Jake, and Copeland might come to accept their fate and enjoy what they’ve got. I feel like McCullers’ lack in heroism is characters like Dr. Copeland or even Mick make the story what is it, but an addition of it would have made this novel stand out more. Of course not every story is going to have a happy ending, but after the downfall of Singer due to not being able to take the weight of the world on his shoulders and keep it there, made the whole novel. I felt that lack heroism is one of the many things McCullers used to make the story what it was. As another example, Dr. Copeland had ample opportunity to a hero in his own community. At this point in history, African American citizens are facing racism and discrimination being amplified by things like Jim Crow. Dr. Copeland even finds himself in the middle of a racist attack by a sheriff in the town.

Although he doesn’t consider himself a rebellious leader, he decides to defines himself by his education and his philosophical beliefs, which are a mix of European Enlightened thinking and Communism. You would think someone of his status as a black doctor in the south would take full advantage to be an actual hero to his family and African American community. “He would think of this purpose until sometimes, after a long day and night of work, he would become blank so that he would forget just for a minute what the purpose was. And then it would come to him again and he would be restless and eager to take on a new task.” (2.3.38-39) People get lost all the time forgetting what their actual purpose is, which we see in Singer. But the thing that stands out about Dr. Copeland is how he goes about his agenda. His pride becomes his downfall.

Could a difference in Dr. Copeland’s personality change his chances of actually being a hero? Copeland, like Antoapoulos and other characters, used Singer as a venting outlet. Just like Singer, many of his problems are self inflicted. Copeland is so strong willed, and unfortunately, is committed to his beliefs that he can’t seem to have a functional relationship with anyone around him. He doesn’t know how to really talk to people, and when he listens to others, he only hears things that go against his main ideals. His huge ego doesn’t even allow him to be a hero to people closest to him, his own family, as Portia says: ‘A person can’t pick up they children and just squeeze them to which-a-way they wants them to be. Whether it hurt them or not. Whether it right or wrong. You done tried that hard as any man could try. And now I the only one of us that would come in this here house and sit with you like this.’ (1.5.72) Good intentions or not, Dr. Copeland fails to live to his full potential. He was never able to live up to his “strong true purpose”, which turns out to be meaningless. He falls ill and returns back to his roots, after trying so hard to be the complete opposite of that. His kryptonite was his own self.

There were so many ways this story could have went, but this is the path McCullers decided to take for this novel. Heroism, in my opinion, played a pivotal roll in this novel, even if it wasn’t intentional. The spot light came with a lot of pressure that most of the characters who were put in potential “hero” positions could not handle, not even just . To answer the question of “what if” has no right or wrong answer. Not every story has a happy ending, and the way McCullers decided to end this story was not happy. Heroism isn’t for everyone, and that is what made the story what it was.