Study Guide

Miss Lonelyhearts

by Nathanael West

Miss Lonelyhearts Analysis

Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Miss Lonelyhearts’ home

Miss Lonelyhearts’ home. Home of the newspaper advice columnist whose pseudonym is “Miss Lonelyhearts.” It is an apartment with little furniture and bare walls except for an ivory Christ figure nailed to the wall with large spikes, a calmly decorative symbol that plays a crucial role in Miss Lonelyhearts’ regeneration. Early in his quest to assuage the grief and misery of his readers and vent his frustration, Miss Lonelyhearts accepts a proposal of seduction by Fay Doyle, one of his letter writers. Fay is repelled physically and in every other way by her husband, the physically challenged Peter Doyle. Miss Lonelyhearts’ room is also the setting of some reciprocal visits by Betty, his innocent, loyal, but not-too-bright girlfriend, to whom he had earlier proposed marriage.

Park

Park. Public park near the newspaper office that is presumably a little nook in Central Park, given the reference to a Mexican War obelisk at one end. This location provides the occasion for a scene in which Miss Lonelyhearts and a colleague, Ned Gates, find a man, who they believe to be a homosexual, sitting on a turned-down toilet cover in a comfort station. Miss Lonelyhearts, in whose mind the stranger represents all the desperate, broken-hearted, disillusioned letter writers who seek his advice, decides to brutalize the old man. The park, then, in addition to being a refuge for him, is also a place of...

(The entire section is 508 words.)

Miss Lonelyhearts Literary Techniques

Called a "moral satire" and a "moral detective story," the book rearranges a good many techniques to create its own vision. The effaced...

(The entire section is 259 words.)

Miss Lonelyhearts Social Concerns

West's primary focus was the spiritual suffering of the Depression, the people's despair and purposelessness, and the culture's inability to...

(The entire section is 298 words.)

Miss Lonelyhearts Literary Precedents

West's works follow in the tradition of the most famous deadly serious satirist, Jonathan Swift, who wrote, besides Gulliver's...

(The entire section is 179 words.)

Miss Lonelyhearts Adaptations

Although West did not work on it in Hollywood, Miss Lonelyhearts was eventually adapted into a B motion picture, Advice to the...

(The entire section is 73 words.)

Miss Lonelyhearts Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Andreach, Robert. “Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts: Between the Dead Pan and the Unborn Christ.” In Twentieth Century Interpretations of “Miss Lonelyhearts”: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Thomas H. Jackson. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971. Analyzes the Pan-Christ antagonism as the unifying principle of West’s novel and the central paradox of twentieth century life, in which paganism violates one’s conscience and Christianity violates one’s nature.

Barnard, Rita. “The Storyteller, the Novelist, and the Advice Columnist.” In The Great Depression and the Culture of Abundance. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Contextualizes Miss Lonelyhearts in the mass-media, commercial culture of the 1930’s, and discusses West’s critique of popular art forms.

Light, James F. Nathanael West: An Interpretive Study. 2d ed. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1971. Claims West’s compassion for people whose dreams have been betrayed fuses form and content in Miss Lonelyhearts. Describes the novel’s imagistic style, and briefly summarizes its critical reception.

Martin, Jay. Nathanael West: The Art of His Life. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1970. An indispensable biographical and critical source. Asserts that the dominant issue in West’s life and art is the loss of value. An appendix documents West’s screenwriting career.

Martin, Jay. Nathanael West: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971. In addition to West’s own essays and reviews by his contemporaries, this volume includes essays that study textual revisions and religious experience in Miss Lonelyhearts.