Pensive and Provocative Quotes by Carson McCullers

Carson McCullers

Carson McCullers (1917 – 1967; born Lula Carson Smith) is known for her incisive novels, especially her first,The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Published in 1940 when she was only 23, McCullers instantly became the toast of the literary scene.

McCiullers wrote in other genres as well, including plays, short stories, children’s poetry, and other works. Most of her work is set in the American South and involves people struggling with loneliness and isolation. Many critics place her among the best southern writers, along with William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Tennessee Williams.

Like many of her characters, McCullers felt that she was an outsider. Her school days were marked by mediocre grades and the stares of fellow students at her eccentric dress and demeanor. When she was fifteen, she contracted rheumatic fever. From that point on, her life was a constant struggle with illness and physical discomfort. Here are some pensive and provocative quotes by Carson McCullers:

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“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are gone, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.”

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“I live with the people I create and it has always made my essential loneliness less keen.”

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“What are the sources of an illumination? To me, they come after hours of searching and keeping my soul ready. Yet they come in a flash, as a religious phenomenon. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter had such an illumination, beginning my long search for the truth of the story and flashing light into the long two years ahead.”

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“The theme is the theme of humiliation, which is the square root of sin, as opposed to the freedom from humiliation, and love, which is the square root of wonderful.”

 

“It is music that causes the heart to broaden and the listener to grow cold with ecstasy and fright.” (The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories, 1951)

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Carson McCullers

Learn more about Carson McCullers

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“It was better to be in a jail where you could bang the walls than in a jail you could not see.” (The Member of the Wedding, 1946)

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“Maybe when people longed for a thing that bad the longing made them trust in anything that might give it to them.” (The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, 1940)

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“We wander, question. But the answer waits in each separate heart – the answer of our own identity and the way by which we can master loneliness and feel that at last we belong.” (The Mortgaged Heart: Selected Writings, 1971)

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“Her face felt like it was scattered in pieces and she could not keep it straight. The feeling was a whole lot worse than being hungry for any dinner, yet it was like that. I want —I want —I want —was all that she could think about–but just what this real want was she did no know.” (The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, 1940)

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The heart is a lonely hunter by Carson McCullers cover

Here are more quotes from The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

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“This fear is one of the horrors of an author’s life. Where does work come from? What chance, what small episode will start the chain of creation? I once wrote a story about a writer who could not write anymore, and my friend Tennessee Williams said, ‘How could you dare write that story, it’s the most frightening work I have ever read.’ I was pretty well sunk while I was writing it.”

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“The thinking mind is best controlled by the imagination.” (Illumination and Night Glare: The Unfinished Autobiography of Carson McCullers, 1999)

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“The writer by nature of his profession is a dreamer and a conscious dreamer. He must imagine, and imagination takes humility, love and great courage. How can you create a character without love and the struggle that goes with love?”

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“The mind is like a richly woven tapestry in which the colors are distilled from the experiences of the senses, and the design drawn from the convolutions of the intellect.”

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“…most of us would rather love than be loved. Almost everyone wants to be the lover. And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being beloved is intolerable to many.” (The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories, 1951)

 

“We are torn between nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known.”

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“Love is a joint experience between two persons — but the fact that it is a joint experience does not mean that it is a similar experience to the two people involved.” (The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories, 1951)

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Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers - cover 1951

A review of Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories

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“For fear is a primary source of evil. And when the question “Who am I?” recurs and is unanswered, then fear and frustration project a negative attitude. The bewildered soul can answer only: “Since I do not understand ‘Who I am,’ I only know what I am not.”  (The Mortgaged Heart: Selected Writings, 1971)

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“The way I need you is a loneliness I cannot bear.”

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“I never read my reviews. If they’re good, they might give me the big-head, and if they are unfavorable, I would be depressed. So why bother?”

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“Why does one write? Truly it is financially the most ill-rewarded occupation in the world. My lawyer has figured out how much I made from the book The Member of the Wedding, and it is, over the five years I worked on it, twenty-eight cents a day.”

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The member of the wedding by Carson McCullers

Carson McCullers page on Amazon


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