The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

December 1, 2020 By mk

Read Carson McCullers’ “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (published in 1940)” translated by Haruki Murakami this year and impressed not only the way Murakami translated but the findings on the interaction among the literary works and the reality beyond the place, language and time.

The problems and sufferings that the characters faced in the novel are still the same as those many people do in 2020; the wealth inequality, racism, violence, and poverty… Some scenery recalls that of exactly 2020; “An epidemic of pneumonia raged through the wet, narrow streets, and for a week Doctor Copeland slept at odd hours, fully clothed. (Part 2, Ch.10)”

The scene reminds me of Murakami’s essay on Woody Guthrie’s “Dust Pneumonia Blues” in his essay collection “It Don’t Mean That Swing If It Ain’t Got a Thing” published in 2005.

In the essay, Murakami wrote “When I listen to this song sung by Guthrie, the seriousness of the illness gradually sank into our feelings, even though it was a disaster that occurred in a distant place 70 years ago. … Guthrie’s singing sad landscape of the disaster, an accurate report of its harsh trials, remains in our ears forever.”

The song was released in 1940, the same year of the publication of “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter”. Honestly, when I first read the essay, I was hardly imagining the scenery of “Dust Pneumonia” but can do it after the Covid era. It is an unwanted coincidence, though.

In the Afterward of translated “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter”, Murakami wrote, When he started translation work 40 years ago almost the same time he began to write a novel. That time, he had a list of the stories that he would have liked to translate by himself sometime in the future when he would be capable of doing that.

The list is as below. All are those Murakami encountered when he was young and reread several times, and got influenced. He expressed that they are “water source” of his novels. He already translated all of them except McCullers’ and finally did it this year.

– The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
– The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
– The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
– Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger
– Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
– The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

According to Murakami, the reason why he hadn’t translate “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” until this year was that he had not been sure whether young Japanese readers would accept the novel with empathy. He did not have such concern when he translated other stories on the list and was confident that young Japanese readers would accept them as classic with contemporaneity.

Now, he translated the last piece and heartily hoped that people would read “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” in which McCullers depicted dark, hopeless and lingering problems with warm sympathy and empathy. 

I found a nice application of classic literary tradition of “Honkadori“; an allusion within the literature to classic works which can be an unspoken challenge to the readers that if the reader could recognize it.

Drink plenty of water,’ said Doctor Copeland. ‘And rest as much as you can.’ (The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Part 2, Ch.3)
“It’s my motto for life. ‘Walk slowly; drink lots of water.'” Mari looks at him.’ (After Dark, Ch.13)

I believe it also corresponds to “water source” in the Afterward. I wonder if some of you would recall “well” that the protagonist of Murakami’s novel often get in.

When you’re supposed to go down, find the deepest well and go down to the bottom. (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Book 1, Ch.4)

There can be some more hidden literary clue, but the above are all that I have come up with so far.