Miss Lonelyhearts

Summary

"Miss Lonelyhearts in the Dismal Swamp" and "M.L. in the Country"

Summary "Miss Lonelyhearts in the Dismal Swamp" and "M.L. in the Country"

Analysis

Miss Lonelyhearts has previously observed that man breaks stones to control nature before it could control him. Here, as he descends into a vague illness, he tries to assemble disordered junk into an object meaningful to him: a cross. Religion, as always in the novel, is not enough to order his chaotic world. As Miss Lonelyhearts has previously explained, Betty does have an inclination toward order, but she believes that man is inclined toward disorder—she attributes Miss Lonelyhearts's sickness to the chaos of the city—while nature is clean, healthy, and ordered. Betty suits the country well as a virginal Eve-figure who eats apples, then covers her body in pajamas. As a twist, however, she starts off clothed—perhaps simply because she is cold at night—but later is unashamed in her nudity. To West's credit, he shows both sides of the country, unlike most writers who romanticize the pastoral life. While a serene and beautiful Eden at times, the area around the farm is also cold, loud, deathly, unwelcoming of human visitors, and filled with closed- minded human inhabitants such as the racist gas station attendant. While the episode ends on a romantic, carefree note with Miss Lonelyhearts and Betty kissing in the grass, Miss Lonelyhearts also smells a "mixture of sweat, soap and crushed grass"—the human refuse of sweat and the manmade detergent seemingly cancel each other out, destroying pristine nature.

West throws us a bone by having Miss Lonelyhearts (in his lengthy speech to Betty) and Shrike (in his dictated letter that is clearly meant to be from Miss Lonelyhearts himself) synopsize one of the main themes of the novel. However, he more subtly demonstrates it in his framing of Miss Lonelyhearts's summary. What causes Miss Lonelyhearts's pain is less his examination of his own life and more his inability to connect with anyone else, including Betty. Her incomprehension following his job description, and her previous suggestion that he work in an advertising agency—the bastion of the illusory American Dream, work that promotes a product while doing nothing to improve it—highlights how little she understands his alienation. Miss Lonelyhearts's ensuing sickness is also given a straightforward explanation—something his body gives him to relieve him from the more oppressive emotional ailment.