This was Carson McCullers’s first novel, published in 1940, when the author was just twenty-three years old. It started out as a short story in a creative writing class, and an early, working draft of the novel, then called The Mute, was submitted for a Houghton Mifflin Fiction Fellowship, for which McCullers won a cash prize and a publishing contract. Her editors at Houghton Mifflin convinced her to change the title. Upon its publication, the book was received positively by reviewers, who were all the more enthusiastic about it because of the author’s young age. The book introduced themes that stayed with McCullers throughout her lifetime and appeared in all of her works, such as “spiritual isolation” and her notion of “the grotesque,” which she used to define characters who found themselves excluded from society because of one outstanding feature, physical or mental. The story takes place in a small town in the South in the late 1930s. The five central characters cross paths continually throughout the course of about a year, but due to the imbalances in their personalities they are not able to connect with one another, and are doomed to carry on the loneliness indicated in the title. An indication of their lack of coping mechanisms is that the one character that the other four confide their hopes and aspirations and theories to is a deaf-mute, who cannot fully understand them nor communicate back to them anything more than his nodding acceptance of what they tell him. Throughout her short career, McCullers’s novels continued to present characters who were cut off from mankind, although, many critics believe, never as successfully as in this first, brilliant stroke.

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