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Miss Lonelyhearts | Study Guide

Nathanael West

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Course Hero. "Miss Lonelyhearts Study Guide." Course Hero. 3 Nov. 2017. Web. 24 June 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Miss-Lonelyhearts/>.

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Course Hero, "Miss Lonelyhearts Study Guide," November 3, 2017, accessed June 24, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Miss-Lonelyhearts/.

Miss Lonelyhearts | Miss Lonelyhearts and the Cripple | Summary

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Summary

Miss Lonelyhearts now avoids Betty, and she stops calling him. He wants to preserve his humility. He finds "the farther he got below self-laughter, the easier it was for him to practice [humility]."

A week after his return from the country he goes to Delehanty's with Goldsmith. His new humble attitude frightens Goldsmith, who wonders if Miss Lonelyhearts is sick. Shrike is there and he says Goldsmith is the sick one. "Don't call sick those who have faith," Shrike says. He asks Miss Lonelyhearts how he came to believe. Miss Lonelyhearts gives him only a saintly smile. Shrike keeps up his mock solemn ranting, pretending he is offended by Goldsmith, in order to provoke more laughter.

The bartender tells Miss Lonelyhearts there is someone who wants to meet him. He motions a man to come forward. The man has difficulty walking because of a disability. "As he hobbled along, he made many waste motions, like those of a partially destroyed insect."

The bartender introduces the man as Peter Doyle. Shrike butts in, raising a toast to humanity. "What is man," he starts to say, but the bartender interrupts, explaining Doyle reads meters for the gas company. Doyle tries to get along with Shrike. He tells Shrike people like to tell stories about meter readers, the way they used to tell stories about the ice man seducing women. (Ice is no longer delivered, since people in Miss Lonelyhearts's time have refrigerators.) Doyle implies the stories about meter readers are sexual. Shrike pretends to be offended and leaves.

Doyle says his wife told him to invite Miss Lonelyhearts to their house. Miss Lonelyhearts accepts without thinking. He notices Doyle has a peculiar face, with mismatched features, like a "composite photograph." He and Doyle go to a table to share some drinks. They sit in silence for a while. When Doyle starts talking Miss Lonelyhearts can't understand him. Doyle is overwrought. He pushes out "a jumble of the retorts" he had wanted to say in response to insults. He says all "the private curses against fate that experience had taught him to swallow."

Doyle gives Miss Lonelyhearts a letter he wrote. It is addressed to Miss Lonelyhearts and it describes his difficult life as a disabled meter reader. Walking is difficult for him but the job demands a lot of walking. He is often in pain. Finally his letter asks why he must suffer. "What I want to no [know] is what in hell is the use day after day," he asks. Especially since his only reward is "a lousy three squares with a toothache in it that comes from useing the foot so much." During the reading of the letter Doyle's hand accidentally touches Miss Lonelyhearts's. Miss Lonelyhearts then takes Doyle's hand and holds it.

Analysis

Miss Lonelyhearts and Doyle share an odd and tender moment, holding hands in the speakeasy. The letter expresses more than Doyle can say. However, this tender moment also foreshadows the tragic ending. When Doyle tries to unburden himself, Miss Lonelyhearts can't understand what he says. At the end of the book Miss Lonelyhearts's inability to understand Doyle will be tragic. At the speakeasy Miss Lonelyhearts notices Doyle's facial features don't match. To Miss Lonelyhearts he looks like a "composite photograph" of several different people. This too will be part of Miss Lonelyhearts's tragic misunderstanding. When Doyle comes to confront Miss Lonelyhearts, Miss Lonelyhearts treats him as a "composite" or mixture of all his letter writers. Miss Lonelyhearts doesn't understand and so rushes into the arms a murderously angry man.

Like his wife, Doyle is a kind of living Miss Lonelyhearts letter. He asks the most fundamental Miss Lonelyhearts question: What's the point? Broad Shoulders asked for advice about whether to take her husband back. Harold S. wanted to know how to help his sister. Doyle's question is more difficult, but it is also closer to Miss Lonelyhearts's own concerns. It seems likely West wrote Doyle's letter, along with inventing the Doyles, the husband-and-wife Miss Lonelyhearts fans who meet up with Miss Lonelyhearts.

West's touch seems especially evident in the following passages. Doyle wants to know what the point is, when all he gets is "a lousy three squares [three square meals] with a toothache in it that comes from useing the foot so much." There is no logical connection between Doyle's sore foot and a toothache, and it is not clear precisely how the meals contain a toothache. But in this fictional impression of a barely literate writing style, Doyle's expression makes poetic sense. The three lousy square meals also contain a portion of misery—private, incommunicable, unassuageable misery, like a toothache that would come from toxic nourishment such as his life offers him.

It is also fitting Miss Lonelyhearts's only answer is to tenderly hold Doyle's hand. He has already noticed it is easier for him to practice humility when is far "below self-laughter." Doyle's letter is just the kind of thing Shrike and his imitators, those "machines for making jokes," would have fun with. As long as Miss Lonelyhearts doesn't speak to Doyle he can avoid self-laughter and exposure to Shrike's mockery.

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