Generally considered Nathanael West’s masterpiece, Miss Lonelyhearts is an intense indictment of the false promises of twentieth century America. Originally, West had envisioned writing a novel in the form of a comic strip, and this idea is evident in the use of brief chapters with illustrative titles. The novel, as with all West’s novels, is concerned with identity through dreams. The Christ dream is a key theme in Miss Lonelyhearts.
As the novel opens, Miss Lonelyhearts, the young male writer of a newspaper advice column, can no longer ignore the misery of his correspondents and obsessively pursues some sort of control or order in life. The fraudulent guarantees and false dreams offered by religion, by nature, and by the media only lead to terrible destruction. Miss Lonelyhearts dies locked in an embrace with the disabled and impotent Doyle, one of his correspondents.
The grotesque characters in the novel are represented as nonhuman symbols. The editor Shrike’s name is that of the bird that kills its victims by spearing them on thorns. His name is also similar to the word “shriek.” Shrike’s endless caustic speeches impale Miss Lonelyhearts in his quest for Christ-like compassion. Shrike’s wife Mary is represented by breasts, but rather than nurturing, the breasts are teasing. Mary hides a medal in her cleavage and flaunts her breasts as she discusses her mother’s terrible death from breast cancer. Betty,...
(The entire section is 417 words.)