Miss Lonelyhearts

by: Nathanael West

William Shrike

Characters William Shrike

If Miss Lonelyhearts is the novel's Christ-figure, then Shrike is its anti- Christ (his name almost sounds like "Christ" backwards), an arrogant, cold, grandiloquent cynic. He embraces the Renaissance values of debauchery and indulgence, allows his wife, Mary, to go out with other men if it saves him money, and cheats on her with Miss Farkis and presumably other women. Shrike uses a "dead pan" face to obscure his own emotion, and his exploitative actions hint that he may not have any emotions at all. Indeed, he created Miss Lonelyhearts's job as a circulation stunt; when Miss Lonelyhearts prescribes suicide to a reader, Shrike warns him against driving down circulation. Above all, Shrike mocks Miss Lonelyhearts's Christian faith, frequently making Miss Lonelyhearts the butt of his jokes as he compares him to Christ.

Shrike's party at the end of the novel brings out his deepest resentment of Miss Lonelyhearts; supposedly holding the evening in Miss Lonelyhearts's honor, it is all a Judas-like attempt to betray him by reading out Doyle's denunciatory letter. However, Shrike may not be so far from the grotesques he so thoroughly mocks. While his complaint that Mary has fought him to retain her virginity is hardly worthy of sympathy, Shrike does say, with seeming earnestness, that she beats him. This may simply be another of his tricks, but his lengthy speeches, a welcome departure from the novel's stark, journalistic style, do often criticize—albeit mockingly—the lifestyles he endorses. Perhaps there is a simple desire for true love even in Shrike—which would make him the most grotesque of all the novel's characters.