Miss Lonelyhearts

by: Nathanael West

"Miss Lonelyhearts and Mrs. Shrike"

Summary "Miss Lonelyhearts and Mrs. Shrike"

The letters also expose the cracked façade of "the business of dreams," a phrase West uses here twice. West refers more generally to the American Dream, the belief that anyone can move up the economic and social ladder in America. Much American literature after World War I, especially during the Great Depression, criticized the morality and illusory nature of the American Dream. While West is no exception, he does hold a more broadened judgment. In the restaurant, West writes that Miss Lonelyhearts "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." Rather than simply condemn those who succumb to the temptations of advertisements, Miss Lonelyhearts classes them with his readers—desperate souls yearning to break free from their grotesque trappings. As a writer who has sold out his earnest beliefs, Miss Lonelyhearts is clearly trapped inside the morally dubious, greedy American Dream. His past attempt to get fired by recommending suicide in a column is a morbidly witty example of this entrapment. Shrike stops Miss Lonelyhearts not because suicide is an immoral and disheartening prescription from an advice columnist, but because it will cut into the newspaper's sales.