Skip over navigation

Miss Lonelyhearts

Nathanael West

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

"Miss Lonelyhearts Returns," "M.L. and the Cripple," and "M.L. Pays a Visit"

Important Quotations Explained

Summary

"Miss Lonelyhearts Attends a Party"

Miss Lonelyhearts has been in bed for three days, calmly eating crackers and smoking cigarettes. He falls asleep and is awoken by a knock at his door. He answers the door naked and finds five people standing outside, including two women who are scared off by his nakedness. The three men, one of whom is Shrike, are drunk. Shrike says his wife, Mary, has been insulted by Miss Lonelyhearts and wants to fight him. He pushes Miss Lonelyhearts down, but when Miss Lonelyhearts gets up, he feels like a composed rock. Shrike says they want to play a game with him called "Everyman his own Miss Lonelyhearts." He takes out a batch of letters from the office, Miss Lonelyhearts dresses, and they take a cab to a party at Shrike's apartment. Betty is there as well.

After distributing paper and pencils, Shrike announces the start of the game and introduces Miss Lonelyhearts as a moral and spiritual crusader. He directs each guest to answer one of the letters addressed to Miss Lonelyhearts, and says that Miss Lonelyhearts will analyze their responses and provide guidance. Shrike hands out the letters, synopsizing each of them first. He hands Miss Lonelyhearts one, but Miss Lonelyhearts drops it without reading it. Betty leaves, and Miss Lonelyhearts follows her. Shrike notices their departure only when he sees Miss Lonelyhearts's letter on the floor. He announces that Miss Lonelyhearts has left, but that he will read the letter himself. Shrike pretends not to have already read the missive from Peter Doyle, which denounces Miss Lonelyhearts for the attempted rape of Mrs. Doyle. Shrike says his faith is unshaken, however, in "the master," and that this is merely another attempt in a long series by the devil to defeat Miss Lonelyhearts. Shrike begins recounting the life of Miss Lonelyhearts, one beset by challenges that only urge him higher in his spiritual quest.

"Miss Lonelyhearts and the Party Dress"

Miss Lonelyhearts finds Betty waiting for the elevator outside Shrike's apartment. He notices the fact that she is wearing a light-blue party dress. He thinks how Betty dresses for things, and then recognizes that while the "rock" is not moved by this realization, his mind is. He pleasantly talks to her, his mind cleared of confusion, as the chaos has dissolved into the "rock." Betty reluctantly accepts his invitation to a soda.

At the soda shop, Miss Lonelyhearts lies—though not deliberately—by telling Betty he has quit his advice-column job and will try to get an advertising job instead. After they flirt and laugh, she cries, though the "rock" is unmoved. She runs out and he follows her. He gets her into a cab, where she reveals she is pregnant. Though she wants an abortion, he sweetly convinces her to marry him. They make plans about their life together as he returns her home. He remains unfeeling, the "rock" perfectly in place.

"Miss Lonelyhearts Has a Religious Experience"

Miss Lonelyhearts gladly accepts a fever that comes on after a long night. He looks at his figure of Christ on his wall, which, to his eyes, spins wildly. He thinks of all objects as a fish, and then sees them rise to the Christ-figure. He shouts out Christ's name, and he feels like a rose, as does the room. He identifies his heart and mind with God. He plans his life and job anew, and offers drafts of his column to God, who approves of everything.

Miss Lonelyhearts answers the doorbell and sees Doyle walking up the stairs. He thinks of Doyle's visit as a chance to embrace and heal the cripple, and runs down to greet him. Doyle carries something inside a newspaper, and reaches inside when he sees Miss Lonelyhearts. Doyle shouts a warning, but Miss Lonelyhearts hears it as a desperate plea from one of his readers. Doyle tries to flee, but Miss Lonelyhearts catches him. Betty enters the apartment, starts up the stairs, and tells them to stop. Doyle panics and tries to get rid of his package, taking his hand out. The gun inside explodes and Miss Lonelyhearts falls, rolling with Doyle down the stairs.

Analysis

Miss Lonelyhearts undergoes a symbolic ascent to the role of Christ by the end of the novel, although this ascent fails in many ways. Having been feverish and sick for some time now, he virtually dies and is resurrected in "Miss Lonelyhearts Attends a Party." The process takes three days, just as Christ was dead for three days before his resurrection fulfilled the messianic prophecy. Yet, as with all of Miss Lonelyhearts's attempts to be like Christ, the resurrection is a failure. He numbs himself from emotion and physical pain as his body grows more like a hardened, impassive "rock"—West's use of the stone as a symbol of human violence and defensiveness comes full circle.

At the party, Shrike mocks Miss Lonelyhearts more than ever as he pronounces him their spiritual leader. The party also has the feel of the Last Supper, with Shrike as Judas and the partygoers as the disciples—although Miss Lonelyhearts escapes Shrike's clutches. The "Party Dress" episode, as a self- admitted parody of boy-girl cinematic relationships, is filled with trite dialogue and behavior that deviates from the novel's dark tones and stories of abusive marriages. Miss Lonelyhearts's gallant offer of marriage to the pregnant Betty even echoes the story of Doyle and his wife. While Miss Lonelyhearts's actions make him seem rehabilitated, his "rock" remains unfeeling and he has not fully committed to love.

Yet Miss Lonelyhearts is now primed for the true crucifixion. His religious experience finally joins him with God and makes him faithful, ready to embrace love in life as well as in ideals. But Doyle, the ultimate grotesque, is unwilling to accept this gift in return. Miss Lonelyhearts dies for Doyle's lack of faith in him, just as Jesus died for man's sins. While the novel's ending is tragic and stark, the final image of Miss Lonelyhearts rolling with Doyle's body is almost hopeful. He may be dead, but Miss Lonelyhearts has fully embraced another grotesque. Both symbolically castrated men are, in some sense, whole again.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us