Miss Lonelyhearts

by: Nathanael West

Symbols

Stones and Rocks

West uses stones and rocks repeatedly in a variety of different contexts, defying simple definition or interpretation. Miss Lonelyhearts states the significance of stone to him when he reasons that man breaks stones "desperately, almost as if they [know] that the stones would someday break them." Violence is linked with the stone as a defense mechanism against nature, but the stone also takes on another natural association—that of cold insensitivity. Miss Lonelyhearts feels himself turning into a "rock" at the end of the novel, remaining emotionally dead even while he makes marriage plans with Betty (though his religious experience snaps him out of his stupor). But the stone also becomes a signifier of false hope: Shrike commands Miss Lonelyhearts to throw his readers their "daily stone" with his digestible advice column. When Miss Lonelyhearts tries to throw the stone that has formed in his stomach, however, he finds no target—perhaps a reminder of the Biblical phrase "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." The most graphic image of a stone occurs when Miss Lonelyhearts does throw one—on the head of the lamb after the botched sacrifice. He does so, however, out of mercy. This episode takes place in his youth, though, and demonstrates how far Miss Lonelyhearts's view of stone has fallen. His gesture may encapsulate all the above negative connotations of the stone—it is certainly violent, it is a way to end feeling, and the stone is thrown—but it is for an act of mercy, not destruction.

Lamb

The lamb Miss Lonelyhearts sacrifices in his youth is an obvious symbol for Jesus. The Bible makes this symbolic link clear: just as Jesus died for man's sins, so does the unblemished, innocent lamb in a sacrifice. But when Miss Lonelyhearts tries to kill the lamb, the sacrifice goes awry, and the wounded animal escapes. West's implication is clear: religion fails in the modern world, and Miss Lonelyhearts cannot live up to his full Christian potential. Moreover, after the merciful Miss Lonelyhearts finally puts the lamb out of its misery, flies devour the lamb's carcass. The meek and innocent are not only killed these days, West shows in this account—which was originally intended to open the novel—but also brutalized.