Miss Lonelyhearts Study Guide

Miss Lonelyhearts

Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West

Miss Lonelyhearts is a 1933 novel about a depressed newspaper columnist who writes an advice column, writing as "Miss Lonelyhearts." The novel is a black comedy that expresses a disillusioned view of American life and its alienation during the Great Depression. Through various romantic affairs Miss Lonelyhearts attempts to dispel his depression, worsened as a result of the desperate letters he reads for his column and the cynicism of his editor. In the end, Miss Lonelyhearts experiences an epiphany but is shot by the husband of his lover.

In the story, Miss Lonelyhearts is an unnamed male newspaper columnist writing an advice column that the newspaper staff considers a joke. As Miss Lonelyhearts reads letters from desperate New Yorkers, he feels terribly burdened and falls into a cycle of deep depression, accompanied by heavy drinking and occasional bar fights. He is also the victim of the pranks and cynical advice of Shrike, his feature editor at the newspaper.

Miss Lonelyhearts tries several approaches to escape the terribly painful letters he has to read: religion, trips to the countryside with his fiancée Betty, and affairs with Shrike's wife and Mrs. Doyle, a reader of his column. However, Miss Lonelyheart's efforts do not seem to ameliorate his situation. After his sexual encounter with Mrs. Doyle, he meets her husband, a poor crippled man. The Doyles invite Miss Lonelyhearts to have dinner with them. When he arrives, Mrs. Doyle tries to seduce him again, but he responds by beating her. Mrs. Doyle tells her husband that Miss Lonelyhearts tried to rape her.

In the last scene, Mr. Doyle hides a gun inside a rolled newspaper and decides to take revenge on Miss Lonelyhearts. Lonelyhearts, who has just experienced a religious enlightenment after three days of sickness, runs toward Mr. Doyle to embrace him. The gun "explodes", and the two men roll down a flight of stairs together.

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