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Miss Lonelyhearts | Study Guide

Nathanael West

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Miss Lonelyhearts | Miss Lonelyhearts and the Party Dress | Summary



The focus of the narrative returns here to Miss Lonelyhearts. Outside Shrike's apartment Miss Lonelyhearts catches up with Betty. He speaks and pleads with her to talk to him. They go to a soda fountain. Betty says his job is hurting him. He tells her he has quit the Miss Lonelyhearts job and is looking for work in advertising. "He was not deliberately lying," the narrator comments. Miss Lonelyhearts's lies cheer Betty up at first, but then she runs out.

Miss Lonelyhearts catches up with her, and they get in a taxi. Betty tearfully tells Miss Lonelyhearts she is pregnant. Miss Lonelyhearts proposes marriage, all the while feeling nothing for Betty. She says she plans to have an abortion. Miss Lonelyhearts continues to plead for marriage, and also for her to keep the baby. He says whatever she wants to hear, "all the things that went with strawberry sodas and farms in Connecticut." She accepts. As the taxi arrives at her place they are planning their life together, although Miss Lonelyhearts is just emptily saying words. "He did not feel guilty. He did not feel," the narrator remarks. Miss Lonelyhearts leaves Betty at her place, feeling he has survived a test. He looks forward to returning to bed, as he has so often done.


In the chapter called "Miss Lonelyhearts and the Lamb" Miss Lonelyhearts read a passage in the novel The Brothers Karamazov by the 19th-century Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The passage told its readers to "love a man even in his sin" and to "love all God's creation." But as Miss Lonelyhearts tries to attain this divine love, he withdraws from actual social relationships. He stays in bed, as in the previous chapter. Or he withdraws by seeing others and himself as impersonal, as things. Therefore in this chapter Betty is referred to as "the party dress" and Miss Lonelyhearts is referred to as "the rock."

At this point Miss Lonelyhearts's words to Betty have very little relationship to his feelings or intentions. Although "the rock" begs "the party dress" to marry him, Miss Lonelyhearts is really not interested in marriage. Earlier in the novel he scorned the other journalists as "machines for making jokes." But in this chapter Miss Lonelyhearts is a kind of machine for social compliance, or a machine for socially approved love relationships.

He also seems to consider Betty a temptation, a distraction from his true mission to "love all God's creation." In fact he considers all women a temptation the rock can withstand. In the previous chapter he resisted the charms of Mrs. Shrike: "but despite her drunken wriggling the rock remained perfect." In this chapter he resists the emotional pull of Betty. When he leaves her, he notes with satisfaction "The rock had been thoroughly tested and had been found perfect."

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