Miss Lonelyhearts

by: Nathanael West

Miss Lonelyhearts

Characters Miss Lonelyhearts

Miss Lonelyhearts concedes he has a "Christ complex." As if his status as moral and spiritual guide to his readers were not enough, clues to his Christ- like status abound: he hangs a figure of Christ up on his walls, Shrike mockingly compares Miss Lonelyhearts to Christ, and Miss Lonelyhearts's face even resembles a minister's. His personal life, however, falls far below these Christ-like expectations. He concedes he has never allowed religious "hysteria" to overtake him, and he claims at one point that he does not believe in Christ. The novel tracks Miss Lonelyhearts's grappling with this Christ-identity, generally proceeding along this course: when he reads his letters and thinks abstractly about the grotesques—as when he pities them for their belief in dreams—he astutely diagnoses their misery; however, when he is directly confronted with those who need love in his own life, he is unable to provide it.

A perfect example of this disconnect is Betty, whom Miss Lonelyhearts has guiltlessly avoided after his marriage proposal, feeling he has been "fooled" by her love. When he returns to her, he berates her for her concern about his health. Even more telling is Miss Lonelyhearts's reaction to his own impotence in helping those who need it. He slaughters the lamb after it escapes the bungled sacrifice by bashing its head with a stone—a brutal killing, certainly, but merciful. Then, when he accidentally steps on a frog at another point, his sense of pity soon transforms into a rage as he continues to pulverize the animal. Miss Lonelyhearts is reminded of this event as he interrogates the old man, and the reason is clear: Christ-like only in his ability to feel for the weak, but not in his ability to perform miracles, Miss Lonelyhearts helplessly watches this grotesque. His pity is soon transformed into anger as he twists the old man's arm.

Only when Miss Lonelyhearts meets Peter Doyle and holds his hand does he experience his first moment of profound human connection—most likely because he feels guilty for having had sex with Mrs. Doyle. However, it is unfair to say that guilt is the only motivation for his holding hands with Doyle. Miss Lonelyhearts identifies especially with Doyle, whose crippled foot and submission to his powerful wife may remind Miss Lonelyhearts of his own virtual castration as an advice columnist subservient to Shrike. Miss Lonelyhearts's final days complete his Christian ascendance, as they include many symbolic events of Christ's last days, though out of sequence. Miss Lonelyhearts spends three days in bed (like Christ's three days being dead), he is pulled to Shrike's party (a sort of Last Supper), he has a religious awakening in which he communicates directly to God, and he is martyred when Doyle shoots him.