A renowned American Novelist, playwright, and essayist, Carson McCullers, was born on the 19th of February in 1917 in Georgia, the United States. She was a precocious daughter of Lamar Smith, a jeweler by profession, while her mother, Marguerite Waters, was a homemaker. Carson shared the aesthetic and unique creative abilities of her parents from a very young age; she took piano lessons when she was five. Later, after recognizing her unique writing abilities, her father gifted Carson a typewriter to sharpen her skills further. Her interest in literature, therefore, won an incentive at such a young age which became a reason for her popularity.
Equipped with musical and literary talent, Carson graduated from Columbus High School, at seventeen and went on to attend the prestigious, Julliard School of Music, in New York City. However, her deteriorating health prevented her from attending regular classes. To support herself, she took up various odd jobs, including that of a dog walker and a waitress, but she never let her writing passion witness a decline, for she used to take night classes and pursue writing. After passing the traumatic periods of illness, she abandoned music and pursued the writing career, her lifelong obsession. For this, she attended night classes at Columbia University, where she learned writing technicalities, paving her way for future publications.
Carson married Reeves McCullers, an aspirating writer, and an ex-soldier in September 1937. They began their married life in North Carolina where both supported each other in literary pursuits. Despite sharing similar literary traits, they failed to develop a lasting union and divorced each other in 1941. They remarried in 1945 yet three years later, they underwent severe depression, while Carson had a failed attempt at suicide. However, in 1953, Reeve killed himself with an overdose of sleeping pills.
McCullers’s life suffered a series of illnesses; aged fifteen, she suffered from rheumatic fever which resulted in heart disease. Later, in her youth, she suffered from fatal strokes, leaving her devastated. After combating illness, she died on the 29th of September in 1967 and was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.
Some Important Facts about Her
- Although she produces many masterpieces, she earned glory for her work, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, which brought her commercial success.
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy, two Russian giants, were her lifelong passions and sources of inspiration.
- Her play, The Member of the Wedding, won the Donaldson Award for the best play and New York Drama Critics Circle Award for the best American play of 1950.
Carson McCullers started writing at a very young age and tasted the fruits of her success during her lifetime. Becoming a published writer at a very young age when her first autobiographical piece “Wunderkind” gave her much-needed confidence which proved a harbinger of the great literary mind. Her first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, was published in 1939. However, after getting inspired by great literary figures like Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Isak Dinesen, and Tolstoy, she went on to publish a long list of pieces such as Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Member of the Wedding, The Ballad of the Sad Café, and The Member of the Wedding.
Carson McCullers is well-known for trying various styles in her writings. However, one style that is evident in almost all of her works is realism; her favorite style in novels. To make her work enjoyable and worth reading, she has used literary devices and techniques like intertextuality, exaggeration, paradox, irony, and symbolism. She has also incorporated the elements of Southern gothic style in some of her novels which allowed her to touch various social issues such as murder, impotence, sexuality, and infidelity. The major themes in her writings are solitude, unrequited love, pain, loss of innocence, and life.
Some Important Works of Carson McCullers
- Best Novels: Her notable novels include Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Member of the Wedding, Clock without Hands, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.
- Other Works: Her other notable works include The Ballad of the Sad Café: The Novels and Stories of Carson McCullers, and some plays such as The Member of the Wedding, The Square Root of Wonderful, A Play in Three Acts, Illumination and Night Glare and Sweet as a Pickle and Clean as a Pig.
Carson McCullers’s Impacts on Future Literature
Carson McCullers has left a considerable legacy to the world as, after several years of her demise, her works still enjoys a place among the global literature. Whether in a real story or a gothic novel, in nonfiction or fiction, her voice speaks through her words. To many critics and authors, her writings are free from prejudices and artificiality as if the author has had an innocent upbringing far from the alluring nature of the world. Instead, she has successfully created a realistic world found everywhere.
- “The Heart is a lonely hunter with only one desire! To find some lasting comfort in the arms of anothers fire…driven by a desperate hunger to the arms of a neon light, the heart is a lonely hunter when there’s no sign of love in sight!” (The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter)
- “She wished there was some place where she could go to hum it out loud. Some kind of music was too private to sing in a house cram fall of people. It was funny, too, how lonesome a person could be in a crowded house.” (The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter)
- “But the hearts of small children are delicate organs. A cruel beginning in this world can twist them into curious shapes. The heart of a hurt child can shrink so that forever afterward it is hard and pitted as the seed of a peach. Or again, the heart of such a child may fester and swell until it is a misery to carry within the body, easily chafed and hurt by the most ordinary things.” (The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Stories)