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Miss Lonelyhearts

Nathanael West

Important Quotations Explained

"Miss Lonelyhearts Attends a Party," "M.L. and the Party Dress," and "M.L. Has a Religious Experience"

Key Facts

"...they had believed in literature, had believed in Beauty and in personal expression as an absolute end. When they lost this belief, they lost everything. Money and fame meant nothing to them. They were not worldly men."

Miss Lonelyhearts makes this remark about his friends at the speakeasy in "Miss Lonelyhearts and the Clean Old Man." Though he earlier discusses the drying out of religious faith, here he shows that another kind of faith—in art—has also been lost by his generation. In fact, the corruption of his generation of failed artists is so great that even typically sinful obsessions—money and fame—no longer hold value. As they have just been discussing the benefits of rape against literary women, it is clear that these men are absolutely soulless creatures who merely drink and carouse—as Miss Lonelyhearts later says, they are "machines" for making jokes.

"...dont think I am broad shouldered but that is the way I feel about life and me I mean."

Miss Lonelyhearts reads this letter from "Broad Shoulders" in "Miss Lonelyhearts Returns," shortly after he vows to be more humble and affirms that Christ died and suffered for humanity. The letter from "Broad Shoulders," which shows that suffering is not at all extinguished in the world, quickly overturns Miss Lonelyhearts's affirmations and vows. The letter is yet another extended narrative of male abuse and female helplessness. While Miss Lonelyhearts had previously observed that his readers' letters expressed "inarticulate" suffering, they are "inarticulate" only on the level of proper literary style, as the run-on, ungrammatical passage shows. However, this childlike aesthetic also hides deeper sorrows; the ingenious name Broad Shoulders gives herself transforms her body into that of a virtual grotesque while recalling images of Atlas and even a crucified Christ.

"He crushed its head with a stone and left the carcass to the flies that swarmed around the bloody flowers."

This graphic account details the aftermath of Miss Lonelyhearts's bungled sacrifice of the lamb in "Miss Lonelyhearts and the Lamb." The lamb is clear-cut symbol for Jesus, as the Bible also explains; just as Jesus died for man's sins, so does the unblemished, innocent lamb in a sacrifice. But Miss Lonelyhearts, in his attempted sacrifice, misses his mark with the knife, and the poor wounded lamb escapes. This botched episode implies the failure of religion in the modern world, and points out that Miss Lonelyhearts is guilty of living up to his full Christian potential. However, he redeems himself somewhat when he puts the animal out of its misery, as the passage shows. However, he uses a stone to do the deed—a material that frequently symbolizes man's aggression against nature. Moreover, the flies that devour the lamb's carcass show the continuing corruption of the modern world, one in which an innocent lamb is not merely sacrificed, but brutalized.

"...all these things were part of the business of dreams. He had learned not to laugh at the advertisements offering to teach writing, cartooning, engineering, to add inches to the biceps and to develop the bust."

Miss Lonelyhearts thinks this while in the Spanish restaurant with Mary in "Miss Lonelyhearts and Mrs. Shrike." The "business of dreams" refers more generally to the American Dream, the incessantly promulgated belief that anyone could move up the economic and social ladder of America. Much American literature after World War I, and especially during the Great Depression, criticized the morality and illusory nature of the American Dream. Rather than simply condemning those people who succumb to the temptations and false promises of advertisements, Miss Lonelyhearts classes them with his readers, labeling them grotesques who will do anything to reach a higher station in life. Miss Lonelyhearts is also trapped in the immoral American Dream, as he has muted his Christian beliefs in his column in favor of more digestible, circulation-friendly advice.

"And they have done their work hysterically, desperately, almost as if they knew that the stones would someday break them."

Miss Lonelyhearts thinks this while observing skyscrapers and waiting in the park for Mrs. Doyle in "Miss Lonelyhearts on a Field Trip." The stone is used in a number of contexts in the novel, but here Miss Lonelyhearts astutely connects them all in one telling statement about man's capacity for violence and defensiveness. The stone has previously been used to put the sacrificial lamb out of its misery and as a symbol for the false advice of Miss Lonelyhearts's column. Moreover, Miss Lonelyhearts later feels his body turning into a "rock" as he becomes more unfeeling. Here, as the building blocks of skyscrapers, stones become symbolic of man's attack against nature, both against the stones themselves and against the sky. Throughout the novel West paints nature as an unwelcoming force, harboring as much harsh chaos in the country as does the city.

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