Four lonely individuals, marginalized misfits in their families/communities, each obsessed with a vision of his or her place in the world, collect about a single deaf-mute with whom they share their deepest secrets. An adolescent who desires to write symphonies, an itinerant drunk who believes he must organize poor laborers, a black physician whose desire is to motivate his people to demand their rightful place in American society, and a cafe owner whose secret wish is sexually ambiguous, believes that the deaf Mr. Singer understands and validates his or her obsession. Singer, ironically obsessed with a friendship of questionable reciprocity, commits suicide when the friend dies.


This richly detailed work, set in the pre-World War II era in a small southern U.S. city, explores a wide range of contemporaneous issues: the status of the black in the south; the loss of purpose among young people; the continued exploitation of labor.

It also deals with disenfranchisement of the physically and/or emotionally disabled and those racial "others." The social and economic position of the black physician reminds the reader how recently non-caucasian, non-male doctors entered the profession in any numbers, and how far the "others" must go to gain equal status. And, finally, the novel raises questions about suicide and about the parameters of madness.


First published: 1940



Place Published

New York