Thursday, May 22, 2014

Theodore Sturgeon: "The Heart"

Theodore Sturgeon
"The Heart"
The Ultimate Egoist
Volume I: The Complete Stories

"The Heart"  is a quiet little shocker with a warning about getting what one wants.  It's also an early tale about the power of hate.

The tale is a nested story-within-a-story.  A writer is sitting at a bar when a woman comes up to him and says she knows he's a writer and that, for a drink or two, she will tell him her story.  

 She describes herself as a plain woman who buried herself in her job as a records clerk in the coroner's office.  She meets a man who has serious heart problems (this was written prior to the development of heart transplants).  They fall in love.  Since he won't, she proposes to him.  He says no because she would be a widow in a short time and he doesn't want to put her through that.  He then leaves her, saying it is for the best.

She can't let it go like that, so she decides to do something about his problem, something unique and unexpected (at least to me).  She tells the writer:

"Hate's a funny thing.  I hope you don't ever know how--how big it can be.  Use it right, and it's the most totally destructive thing in the universe.  When I realized that, my mind stopped going round and round in those small circles, and it began to drive straight ahead.  I got it all clear in my mind.  Listen now--let me tell you what happened when I got going.

I found something to hate.  Bill Llanyn's heart--the ruined, inefficient organ that was keeping us apart.  No one can ever know the crazy concentration I put into it.  No one has ever lived to describe the solidness of hate when it begins to form into something real.  I needed a miracle to make over Bill's heart, and in hate I had a power to work it.  My hate reached a greatness that nothing could withstand.  I knew it just as surely as a murderer knows what he has done when he feels his knife sink into his victim's flesh.  But I was no murderer.  Death wasn't my purpose.  I wanted my hatred to reach into his heart. sear out what was bad and let him take care of the rest.   I was doing what no one else has ever done--hating constructively.  If I hadn't been so insanely anxious to put my idea to work, I would have remembered that hate can build nothing that is not evil, cause nothing that is not evil."

In short, she attempts to use her hatred as a kind of a psychic laser which will burn out the diseased cells in his heart.

 Spoiler: discussion of the ending

A short time later, the coroner hands her notes from several port mortums he recently conducted.  One of them was for Bill Llanyn.  The diagnosis was heart failure.  The coroner tells her he can't be more specific than that.  She should just put down heart failure.  When she asks why, he replies that the man had no heart at all: there was nothing there and he wasn't going to put that on the official form.

Was it that  her control over her hate powered psychic laser was insufficient to accurately distinguish between the diseased cells and the healthy cells in his heart?  Or, were there no healthy cells at all left in his heart?  Or, did she subconsciously hate him and therefore killed him?  Perhaps she didn't know what was in her own heart at that time.   Could this explain her actions after having told her story?

"The woman got up and looked at the clock.
     'Where are you headed?'  I (the writer) asked.
     'I'm catching a train out of here,' she said.  She went to the door.  I said goodnight to her on the sidewalk.  She went down toward the station.  I headed uptown.  When the police emergency wagon screamed by me a few minutes later I didn't have to go down to the tracks to see what happened."

Guilt?  Grief?  Both?

It is said that only a thin line separates love and hate. 


  1. What a great story. I'm glad I hopped over from the 4M list to read your blog again. It's been a while. :-)

  2. Maryann Miller,

    Glad you could stop by. Yes, Sturgeon is a great short story writer. This is one of his early ones and not one of his better known tales.