Miss Lonelyhearts, the male writer of advice to the lovelorn on the New York Post-Dispatch. The lovelorn column, considered a necessity for the increase in the paper’s circulation and regarded by its staff as a joke, becomes an agony to its writer as he sees that the letters he receives are genuine cries for help from the very depths of suffering. In an attempt to escape the pain of the realization that he is the victim of the joke rather than its perpetrator, he turns in vain to drink, to lovemaking, and to a vacation in the country with a woman who loves him. Finally, in the delirium of illness, he imagines himself identified with the Christ whose image has long haunted him. As the handicapped Peter Doyle approaches his room, Miss Lonelyhearts runs toward him with arms outstretched to receive him in his healing embrace. His gesture is mistaken for an intended attack, and he is shot.
Willie Shrike, the feature editor, who is Miss Lonelyhearts’ boss. He turns the knife in Miss Lonelyhearts’ agony by his unending mockery of the desperate cries for help in the lovelorn letters and of the attempts at escape with which people delude themselves.
Mary Shrike, Willie Shrike’s wife, whom Miss Lonelyhearts tries in vain to seduce.
Betty, a girl who is in love with Miss Lonelyhearts. Hoping to cure his despair, she takes him to the country. The attempt fails, since the letters are not forgotten.
Peter Doyle, a handicapped man who consults Miss Lonelyhearts about the meaning of the painful and unremunerative round of his existence. Later, he accuses the columnist of the attempted rape of his wife and shoots him in a struggle following a gesture that Doyle mistakes for an intended attack.
Fay Doyle, Peter Doyle’s wife. Dissatisfied with her life with her handicapped husband, she seeks out Miss Lonelyhearts and tries to seduce him.