Literature Study GuidesMiss LonelyheartsMiss Lonelyhearts And The Fat Thumb Summary

Miss Lonelyhearts | Study Guide

Nathanael West

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Miss Lonelyhearts | Miss Lonelyhearts and the Fat Thumb | Summary



As the story goes on, Miss Lonelyhearts becomes obsessive about order. "Everything had to form a pattern." His is annoyed by shoelaces of different lengths, for example.

One day his condition suddenly becomes worse. "Inanimate things ... take the field against him." Whatever he touches spills or rolls away or breaks. He runs outside, "but there chaos was multiple." People are in disorderly groups and the streetlamps are unevenly spaced. He hears hucksters shouting, but "no repeated group of words would fit their rhythm."

He thinks of a woman he knows, Betty. She might help give his world order. He takes a cab to her apartment and she greets him. He then realizes "only violence could make him supple." She is confident only because her experience of the world is limited.

She invites him to eat dinner and he declines. She smiles and laughs, and he has trouble reading her emotions. Irritated, he starts picking on her, calling her "Betty the Buddha." He had asked her to marry him two months ago. She accepted, and then for some reason unstated he started avoiding her.

He fidgets and then starts fondling her breast under her robe. He speaks in a stilted way, saying, "Let me pluck this rose ... I want to wear it in my buttonhole." She asks him if he is sick. He grows angrier, shouting at her for being "a kind bitch." He claims her attitude shows "No morality, only medicine." He tells her he has "a Christ complex" and he is "a humanity lover."

Betty raises her arm as if he is about to strike her. He is angered by her pitiable state. "She was like a kitten whose soft helplessness makes one want to hurt it," he thinks. As he turns to go, she says, "I love you." He first says "What?" and then he replies he loves her, too. "You and your damned smiling through tears." She then speaks angrily, asking him to leave.


Miss Lonelyhearts the "humanity lover" does not show himself very loving, or lovable, by most definitions in this chapter. Infuriated by his readers and their messy, out-of-control suffering, he can find peace only in a vision of severe and symmetrical order. But this order is impossible to find. Objects conspire against Miss Lonelyhearts at home. Outside, the disorder becomes "chaos."

Instead of coming across as a humanity lover, Miss Lonelyhearts is supremely angry in this chapter. His cruelty to Betty is summed up in this insight: "She was like a kitten whose soft helplessness makes one want to hurt it." This is framed as a view into Betty but it tells readers more about Miss Lonelyhearts. He reacts to helplessness with fury. This shows he does not lack compassion. If he truly had no compassion he might be indifferent to helpless, suffering creatures. But he sees and feels their hurt, and his response is to hurt them more. He wants to do something about it and "hurt" the pain. It is an irrational, doomed response. In the meantime it makes him terrible company for kittens, women, and his suffering readers.

But as much as he hates helplessness he also hates calm and self-sufficiency. When he sees Betty's vulnerability, he wants to hurt her. But when she seems content he wants to hurt her then, too. "Betty the Buddha," he calls her in scorn. There is no way for Betty to win with Miss Lonelyhearts. He has been looking at her as the solution to his problems, but she can't be that; he thinks the pleasures of love and sex are only a retreat from the world. (He is content to identify Betty with love and sex.) She isn't really a person, just a possible solution to his existential problems. Therefore he ultimately rejects the solution he thinks she offers: "Her world was not the world." She is there only as part of his larger search.

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