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English and Modern Languages


Master of Arts (MA)


Mark Harris


Carson McCullers, Grotesque, Southern Culture, Southern Gothic, Southern Renascence, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter


English Language and Literature | Literature in English, North America | Other English Language and Literature


This study explores Carson McCullers’ novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940) in order to determine 1) the text’s relationship to cultural measures for identity in the 1930s and 40s American South and 2) the categorization of the novel as a Southern Gothic novel. The novel depicts cultural conflicts in the South and presents an intimate perspective of the corruption and prejudices between members of the southern community. Southerners in the novel fall into adopting ideal standards for race, gender, and class, judging and determining how people in different levels of each should act within the community. These culturally imposed identities ultimately result in alienation and individual loneliness, which causes those alienated to desperately struggle in defining their own identities and to create purposes and goals that they can worship. This study also defines the key elements of Southern Gothic literature in order to ascertain Heart’s placement within this category, seeing how the novel both matches the standard elements and utilizes them in a unique way. Additionally, in order to supplement previous scholarship on the novel, this study develops the particular area of the novel’s depiction of racism and the struggle to leave segregation in the past and progress into a future consisting of respect and unification amongst the entire southern community. This research finds that the intimate cultural perspective in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and its presentation of grotesque characters ultimately communicates that alienated people are not rightly labeled as ‘freaks,’ but that the southern society’s imposed identity standards for gender, race, and class are a grotesque measurement of the individual value of unique people. This study’s effort to define Southern Gothic elements calls for future research to compare and contrast individual examples of the Southern Gothic style in order to understand the full spectrum on the style, and the study of the cultural themes in the novel suggests a further study on the impact of the novel on both the northern and the southern cultures.