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Miss Lonelyhearts | Study Guide

Nathanael West

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Miss Lonelyhearts | Miss Lonelyhearts Attends a Party | Summary



Miss Lonelyhearts takes to his bed again, for four days. On the fourth day Shrike and four other people come to Miss Lonelyhearts's apartment. Shrike invites Miss Lonelyhearts to a party, but he declines. "Don't be a spoil-sport," says Shrike. "There's a game we want to play and we need you to play it." Miss Lonelyhearts gives in.

At Shrike's apartment Betty is there, wearing a party dress. Shrike explains the rules of his game, which is called "Everyman his own Miss Lonelyhearts." Each guest will answer one Miss Lonelyhearts letter. Then the real Miss Lonelyhearts will diagnose the guests' problems, based on their answers.

Betty leaves, soon followed by Miss Lonelyhearts. The narrator's focus remains inside the apartment for a while. Shrike says, "The master has disappeared." He assures the guests it's all right, because "I am his disciple and I shall lead you in the way of attainment."

Shrike reads aloud a letter addressed to Miss Lonelyhearts. It is from Peter Doyle, who is furious. When he returned home with the gin he found Fay Doyle in tears. Fay told him Miss Lonelyhearts tried to rape her. Doyle ends his letter by saying, "you bastard, you ought to have your brains blown out."

Shrike finds the letter amusing. He gives a sketch of Miss Lonelyhearts's life, including his education in "the University of Hard Knocks." He describes Miss Lonelyhearts as "struggling valiantly to realize a high ideal." Meanwhile the "cold and scornful" world "heaps obstacle after obstacle in his path." He concludes his speech by saying Miss Lonelyhearts will continue to urge himself onward, despite these obstacles.


Earlier in the novel Miss Lonelyhearts gave a summary of his story. Speaking to Betty in the "Miss Lonelyhearts in the Dismal Swamp" chapter, he narrated his story in third person. "A man is hired to give advice to the readers of a newspaper," he begins. This man considers the advice column job a joke, "but after several months at it, the joke begins to escape him." Now in this chapter Shrike is the one to summarize Miss Lonelyhearts's story, a story of a man "struggling valiantly to realize a high ideal." Although Shrike's tone is mocking he presents the story as showing dogged progress. Although the world puts obstacles in the way, Miss Lonelyhearts perseveres, "And so he climbs, rung by weary rung." But the real story of the novel to now has been more like a fall, or a series of tragicomic pratfalls.

If Miss Lonelyhearts were submitted as a thesis in a creative writing program, the teacher might have something to say about the sudden shift in narrative focus here so near the end of the book. As a matter of craft, the narrator's focus seldom shifts so late in any story. If the narrator's focus will move among two or more characters, that is usually established early on. Up until this chapter Miss Lonelyhearts's narrator has focused on Miss Lonelyhearts's perspective, and now it doesn't. However, even writers of great ability do not always excel on every level, and this shift in focus might not be a flaw. Shrike's "machine for making jokes" goes whirling on without Miss Lonelyhearts because he is somewhere else, outside Shrike's grasp, symbolically and actually.

The narrator also makes an oblique reference to A Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan's 17th-century Christian allegory. That book tells the story of an "Everyman," who journeys through obstacles to reach the "Celestial City" (heaven). In this chapter of Miss Lonelyhearts, Shrike's game is called "Everyman His Own Miss Lonelyhearts" (instead of the more logical "Every Man ...").

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