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Miss Lonelyhearts | Study Guide

Nathanael West

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Miss Lonelyhearts | Miss Lonelyhearts Pays a Visit | Summary



Doyle and Miss Lonelyhearts then take a cab to the Doyles' apartment. Each is wrapped up in his own concerns. Doyle curses his fate and his wife. Miss Lonelyhearts mentally calls on Christ, joyfully for his humility has become "a triumphant thing."

At the apartment Mrs. Doyle curses Mr. Doyle and flirts with Miss Lonelyhearts. Mrs. Doyle mixes drinks for everyone. Mr. Doyle makes self-deprecating remarks. "Ain't I the pimp, to bring home a guy for my wife?" he asks. Mrs. Doyle strikes him with a rolled-up newspaper. Mr. Doyle reacts by doing outrageous things: growling, rolling on the floor, unzipping Miss Lonelyhearts's fly. Mrs. Doyle kicks Mr. Doyle. Then things calm down, and everyone takes their seat again.

Mrs. Doyle starts berating her husband again. Miss Lonelyhearts begs them not to fight. "He loves you, Mrs. Doyle; that's why he acts like that," he tells her. "Be kind to him," he adds. She leaves the room. Mr. Doyle and Miss Lonelyhearts hold hands again. Mrs. Doyle returns and says, "What a sweet pair of fairies you guys are."

Miss Lonelyhearts tries to preach to Mrs. Doyle, but without mentioning God. He speaks of Mr. Doyle's daily burden. "You can substitute a dream of yourself for this load," he says. He advises "letting him conquer you in your bed."

Miss Lonelyhearts sees he hasn't gotten through. He starts to scream "Christ is love." He goes on screaming about Christ, "the black fruit that hangs on the cross-tree." Mrs. Doyle sends Mr. Doyle out for more gin. She then tries to sexually excite Miss Lonelyhearts by describing how she toys with Mr. Doyle. She dances lewdly and tries to force Miss Lonelyhearts's head between her breasts. He reacts with a maneuver that pushes her to the floor. She tries to pull him down on her. He reacts by hitting her repeatedly. He flees the Doyles' apartment.


When he invites Miss Lonelyhearts to dinner, Doyle seems to be unaware of any liaison between Mrs. Doyle and Miss Lonelyhearts. But his behavior in the apartment shows he is at least aware of some kind of sexual game being played. And he is one of the players, as he shows when he remarks, "Ain't I the pimp, to bring home a guy for my wife?" He says it as though he is helpless, but his remark puts the offer on the table. He also enthusiastically plays the part of the humiliated, cuckolded husband: acting like a dog, and even unzipping Miss Lonelyhearts's trousers as if to hurry the adultery along.

Even if Doyle could not have foreseen the disaster the invitation would be, Mrs. Doyle must have. Miss Lonelyhearts, in his exalted religious state, counsels her to submit to her husband: "let him conquer you in your bed." But Mrs. Doyle has other ideas. She wants Miss Lonelyhearts, and she wants Miss Lonelyhearts to enjoy the way she taunts her husband. "It drives him nuts," she says, trying to excite Miss Lonelyhearts. It is not clear why Miss Lonelyhearts should enjoy taunting Doyle, and he does not.

In the bar and on the way to the Doyles', Miss Lonelyhearts is in a state of religious exaltation. His humility has become a "triumphant thing." But in practice his humility and his religious message fail. The evening has been full of embarrassing antics: Mrs. Doyle berating her husband, Doyle acting like a dog. But both of them are embarrassed for Miss Lonelyhearts. Screeching curses or rolling around the floor seem less awful to the Doyles than Miss Lonelyhearts's pious message of love. And in a way they're right. Miss Lonelyhearts fails to tap into the thing that "stirred in him" in church as a boy. His first attempt to preach his Christ message undershoots, achieving only sentimentality. His second attempt that evening overdoes it, sounding bizarre and hysterical.

Miss Lonelyhearts arrives with triumphant humility, but in the end he flees, having sunk lower than Doyle or Shrike. At the beginning of the novel Shrike raised his hand, pretending he was about to hit Miss Farkis. In this chapter Doyle raises his hand to his wife, ready to strike her, but then he changes his mind. It is Miss Lonelyhearts who finally enacts the violence that has been threatened against women all along. Unlike the time he twisted the old man's arm, he is not hitting a composite person, a collection of all his readers. He hits Fay Doyle, and he keeps hitting her "until she stop[s] trying to hold him." He not only fails to deliver his Christ message. He also acts in a way as far as possible from his Christ-like ideal.

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