Miss Lonelyhearts, the author’s first major novel, stands as West’s most critically successful, influential, and representative work. The short novel clearly reflects West’s pessimistic view of the world and his characteristic narrative technique, employing graphic and often surreal visual images in describing characters and events. The work’s expressionistic approach, coupled with its nihilistic outlook and sardonic tone, foretold the existentialism of 1960’s writers and became recognized as an early example of black comedy, serving as a model of stimulation to such American writers as Carson McCullers, James Purdy, Flannery O’Connor, and John Hawkes.
Miss Lonelyhearts is the pseudonym of a bachelor newspaper columnist assigned to advise the lovelorn, whose desperation he first finds amusing. His initial attitude fades as he becomes obsessed with his correspondents’ misery, cynically illuminated by the city editor, and sees his own helpless condition in that of his supplicants.
He embarks on a self-perceived Christ-like pilgrimage to attain salvation for himself by helping the hopeless. His messianic quest only serves to exacerbate the impotence of his own relationships and alienates him from those around him who view such a search as insanely futile. When his perceptions of reality become increasingly surreal, he meets a ludicrously ironic death as he intervenes in the life of one lovelorn supplicant whom he...
(The entire section is 592 words.)