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Miss Lonelyhearts | Study Guide

Nathanael West

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Course Hero. "Miss Lonelyhearts Study Guide." Course Hero. 3 Nov. 2017. Web. 9 June 2023. <>.

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Course Hero. (2017, November 3). Miss Lonelyhearts Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved June 9, 2023, from

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Course Hero. "Miss Lonelyhearts Study Guide." November 3, 2017. Accessed June 9, 2023.


Course Hero, "Miss Lonelyhearts Study Guide," November 3, 2017, accessed June 9, 2023,

Miss Lonelyhearts | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Miss Lonelyhearts is set in New York City, early in spring, during Prohibition and the Great Depression, likely the early 1930s. The male protagonist of the black comedy, known to readers only by the pen name "Miss Lonelyhearts," writes an advice column for a newspaper. He receives as many as 30 letters a day from people asking him for advice. Their lives are generally miserable. He took the job as a kind of joke, but now the suffering in the letters for him is all too real.

To blow off steam Miss Lonelyhearts goes to a speakeasy called Delehanty's. There he meets with his editor, a man named Shrike. Shrike holds forth about a new American religion that uses adding machines in its ritual. Shrike is witty, cruel, and satirical.

Miss Lonelyhearts tries to distract himself by getting involved with women. He meets with Betty, a girlfriend, but quarrels with her. He goes on a date with Shrike's wife, but it doesn't turn into the sexual liaison he hoped for.

After another visit to Delehanty's he and a friend, Ned Gates, accost an old man in a public restroom. They badger him about whether he has "homosexualistic tendencies" and then bring him to another speakeasy. Miss Lonelyhearts takes out all his anger on the old man. He twists the old man's arm until he screams. Even then Miss Lonelyhearts does not stop until a bar patron knocks him out.

A Real-Life Lonelyhearts Letter

At work Miss Lonelyhearts then gets a letter from a woman who wants to meet him in person, Fay Doyle. Miss Lonelyhearts and Mrs. Doyle go to Miss Lonelyhearts's apartment and have sex. Afterward Mrs. Doyle talks about her sad life: teenage pregnancy, abandonment, an unhappy marriage to "a cripple." Miss Lonelyhearts finds her talk oppressive. It is like being with "a gigantic, living Miss Lonelyhearts letter in the shape of a paper weight."

The exhausted Miss Lonelyhearts falls ill and stays in bed. Betty visits daily to nurse him back to health. During a visit from Betty, Shrike bursts into the room. He jabbers away about possible solutions to the problem of living. He lists three solutions: running away to live in the country, running away to a South Sea island, and taking solace in art. Shrike then says it's obvious none of these solutions will work for Miss Lonelyhearts. He suggests Miss Lonelyhearts write a letter to Christ.

Betty takes Miss Lonelyhearts to a farmhouse belonging to her aunt. They camp out in the kitchen and spend a few happy days there, cooking, eating, and swimming in the pond. When Miss Lonelyhearts returns to the city, though, he feels just as miserable as ever.

Another Fan

At Delehanty's one evening the bartender tells Miss Lonelyhearts someone wants to meet him. It is Peter Doyle, husband of Fay Doyle. He is the "cripple" she spoke about so disdainfully. Doyle is aware his wife knows Miss Lonelyhearts, but unaware of their affair. Doyle takes out a "Dear Miss Lonelyhearts" letter, and Miss Lonelyhearts reads it silently, holding Doyle's hand.

Doyle's letter describes his work as a gas meter inspector. All day he walks up and down basement stairs, reading meters. His disability makes the work extremely painful. He asks why things have to be this way for him. His letter also asks, "What is the whole stinking business for?"

Doyle and Miss Lonelyhearts go to the Doyles' apartment. Miss Lonelyhearts is feeling religiously exalted, joyful. He is also drunk. At the Doyles' apartment Mrs. Doyle is mean to her husband. She berates him while they drink highballs. Miss Lonelyhearts tries to share some of his Christ-based wisdom with the Doyles. It goes badly. When Mr. Doyle goes out for more gin, Mrs. Doyle tries to seduce Miss Lonelyhearts. Miss Lonelyhearts hits Mrs. Doyle in the face, again and again, and then he flees.


Miss Lonelyhearts takes to his bed again, subsisting on crackers and water. Shrike comes over and invites Miss Lonelyhearts to a party. At the party Shrike explains the rules of a game. Each guest will answer one Miss Lonelyhearts letter. Then the real Miss Lonelyhearts will diagnose the guests' problems, based on their answers. Betty and Miss Lonelyhearts leave.

The party continues, and Shrike reads a letter out loud. It is from Peter Doyle, who is furious with Miss Lonelyhearts. His wife has told him Miss Lonelyhearts tried to rape her.

Betty and Miss Lonelyhearts go to her apartment. She tells him she is pregnant and plans to have an abortion. He asks her to marry him instead, although he is not sincere. She accepts and agrees not to terminate the pregnancy.

Miss Lonelyhearts goes home and falls ill with a fever. Everything in his room looks dead to him, except the crucifix with its Christ image. He decides "Christ is life and light." He feels he is at one with God. The doorbell rings, and it is Peter Doyle, carrying a gun hidden in a newspaper. Doyle shouts something Miss Lonelyhearts cannot understand. Miss Lonelyhearts runs down the stairs toward him, trying to comfort him. In the ensuing confusion Doyle's gun goes off, and the bullet strikes Miss Lonelyhearts. Both men tumble down the stairs.

Miss Lonelyhearts Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Miss Lonelyhearts tries to drink away his troubles.

Rising Action

2 Miss Lonelyhearts torments an old man.

3 Miss Lonelyhearts sleeps with Fay Doyle.

4 Betty and Miss Lonelyhearts retreat to the countryside.

5 Miss Lonelyhearts hits Mrs. Doyle.

6 Shrike reads aloud an angry letter from Peter Doyle.


7 Miss Lonelyhearts decides "Christ is life."

Falling Action

8 Peter Doyle confronts Miss Lonelyhearts.


9 Peter Doyle's gun goes off.

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