The novel focuses on five characters:
Mick, a teenage tomboy growing into a young woman, who dreams of escaping to a better life;
Jake, an alcoholic socialist, frustrated by his inability to convince others of the rightness of his opinions
Biff, the saloon owner, who observes everyone, but is close to no one - not even his wife
Dr. Copeland, an idealistic black physician, striving to make life better for his people; but failing to connect with his own family.
John Singer, a deaf mute, whose best friend Spiros Antonapoulos (also a deaf mute) is institutionalized.
The lives of these characters intersect, but they fail to communicate effectively or truly connect with one another. The main characters suffer from common problems, but few try to know one another.
Singer is the glue that holds them together. Everyone feels they can confide with Singer because, despite his inability to hear, they believe he is the only one who understands them and their ideas. He is the only one who makes an effort to understand or to pay attention or to reach out. Ironically, the deaf man is the best listener.
Each considers Singer a friend; but Singer himself counts only Antonapoulos among his friends.
This is a story of loneliness and isolation; of poverty and segregation and institutional racism; of alcoholism and fanaticism.
I loved Mick; I loved Singer; I loved the idea of the other characters, written brilliantly by McCullers.
There are few happy moments in the narrative, and it ends with a domino effect of tragedy as each character loses the one person giving them hope.
But it is not without hope. And the beautiful writing of McCullers gives the novel a depth that kept me engaged throughout.