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Miss Lonelyhearts | Study Guide

Nathanael West

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Miss Lonelyhearts | Miss Lonelyhearts on a Field Trip | Summary



The next day Miss Lonelyhearts is back at the office. He thinks of a desert, "not of sand, but of rust and body dirt." Inside a fenced-in enclosure sit his letter writers, spelling out his name in the dirt with shells.

Miss Lonelyhearts's co-worker Goldsmith shows up. Goldsmith wrote the advice column the day before, when Miss Lonelyhearts was too hungover to show up at work. Now Goldsmith hands Miss Lonelyhearts a letter. It is from a woman who signs with her own name, Fay Doyle. She has a sad story about being married to "a cripple." She wants to talk to Miss Lonelyhearts in person.

Goldsmith wants to engage in banter. Miss Lonelyhearts retreats in his mind to the image of his letter writers spelling out his name. They run out of sea shells to spell his name with. Instead they use bits of discarded things, mementoes and trash.

He tries to write a column. He urges his readers to enjoy the momentary sensory pleasures of life: "See the cloud-flecked sky, the foam-decked sea ..." He then turns his thoughts to Mrs. Doyle. He imagines her "as a tent, hair-covered and veined," and he pictures himself as a skeleton. He pictures their union: "When he made the skeleton enter the flesh tent, it flowered at every joint."

Miss Lonelyhearts calls Mrs. Doyle at the number she gave in her letter. They agree to meet at a park. While waiting for her in the park Miss Lonelyhearts tries to solve his problems. He is like "a stupid detective who is searching for a clue to his own exhaustion."

Mrs. Doyle is "a big woman." When Miss Lonelyhearts takes her arm "it felt like a thigh." They go to Miss Lonelyhearts's room for a drink. She asks him to turn out the light. As she gets undressed Miss Lonelyhearts thinks of nautical metaphors. She is like an ocean to him. They make love for 15 minutes.

Afterward she talks about her life, her marriage, and her problems. It is a "long, long story" about teenage pregnancy, abandonment, and a hasty, unhappy marriage. For Miss Lonelyhearts it is as if "a gigantic, living Miss Lonelyhearts letter in the shape of a paper weight had been placed on his brain."

Mrs. Doyle goes on to tell the story of how she sought acknowledgment from the father of her child, Lucy. She complains she herself had once been "a pretty girl." As a former pretty girl she feels she doesn't deserve her miserable fate, "married to a shrimp of a cripple." Miss Lonelyhearts offers her a compliment and they return to bed.


Once again Miss Lonelyhearts's thoughts are more dreamlike than his nighttime dreams. In his imagined desert the letter writers are spelling out his name. The narrator compares this to "a rural depot," a train station with the town's name spelled out on a hillside. But in a way the letter writers are more like castaways on a desert island, spelling out a message in hope of rescue. They even use seashells to spell Miss Lonelyhearts's name.

Miss Lonelyhearts tries to ignore the message. He cuts off his sympathy by using laughter. "He killed his great understanding heart by laughing." But the letter writers cannot be ignored. In this chapter the letter writers become personified. Up until now they are faceless, unseen people, usually with pen names such as Desperate and Sick-of-it-all. With the letter from Fay Doyle, Miss Lonelyhearts has a chance to meet a letter writer in person.

However, Fay is also a letter in person. Early in the chapter Miss Lonelyhearts takes her pink-toned, folded letter and sets in on his desk "like a pink tent." The pink tent on the dark mahogany desk "[takes] on rich flesh tones." Then he begins to imagine Fay Doyle as a tent, which means he imagines her as a folded letter: "He thought of Mrs. Doyle as a tent, hair-covered and veined." As Mrs. Doyle becomes a fleshy letter, Miss Lonelyhearts becomes a fleshless, dry skeleton. He thinks sex with Mrs. Doyle will restore him to life: "When he made the skeleton enter the flesh tent, it flowered at every joint."

When Miss Lonelyhearts meets this letter writer in the flesh, he will also meet a fleshy letter. This is how their meeting turns out. Mrs. Doyle presents the same burden as his other letter writers, magnified. Talking to her is like having "a gigantic, living Miss Lonelyhearts letter in the shape of a paper weight ... on his brain."

This literary technique is called an extended metaphor. A metaphor compares two things, as when Mrs. Doyle's letter is described as "a pink tent." An extended metaphor carries on the comparison throughout many pages, or through a whole book or poem. In this case the metaphor of comparing Mrs. Doyle to a letter is extended for a whole chapter. This extension allows West to show the dread and the burden Miss Lonelyhearts feels in a new light.

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