Places: Miss Lonelyhearts

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1933

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social satire

Time of work: Late 1920’s

Places DiscussedMiss Lonelyhearts’ home

Miss Miss LonelyheartsLonelyhearts’ home. Home of the newspaper advice columnist whose pseudonym is “Miss Lonelyhearts.” It is an apartment with little furniture and bare walls except for an ivory Christ figure nailed to the wall with large spikes, a calmly decorative symbol that plays a crucial role in Miss Lonelyhearts’ regeneration. Early in his quest to assuage the grief and misery of his readers and vent his frustration, Miss Lonelyhearts accepts a proposal of seduction by Fay Doyle, one of his letter writers. Fay is repelled physically and in every other way by her husband, the physically challenged Peter Doyle. Miss Lonelyhearts’ room is also the setting of some reciprocal visits by Betty, his innocent, loyal, but not-too-bright girlfriend, to whom he had earlier proposed marriage.

Park

Park. Public park near the newspaper office that is presumably a little nook in Central Park, given the reference to a Mexican War obelisk at one end. This location provides the occasion for a scene in which Miss Lonelyhearts and a colleague, Ned Gates, find a man, who they believe to be a homosexual, sitting on a turned-down toilet cover in a comfort station. Miss Lonelyhearts, in whose mind the stranger represents all the desperate, broken-hearted, disillusioned letter writers who seek his advice, decides to brutalize the old man. The park, then, in addition to being a refuge for him, is also a place of turmoil.

<i>Post-Dispatch</i> city room

Post-Dispatch city room. Miss Lonelyhearts’ workplace, where some thirty letters from readers await his reply daily. It is not a particularly congenial place, not only because of the steady dose of his readers’ misery but also because his superior, Willie Shrike, orchestrates many practical jokes at Miss Lonelyhearts’ expense.

Delehanty’s speakeasy

Delehanty’s speakeasy. Prohibition-era bar that is a gathering place for the lonely; located close to the newspaper office and small park where Miss Lonelyhearts frequently stops to escape the concrete jungle of New York. The speakeasy is located in the cellar of a brownstone building, which differs from its neighbors in that it has an armored door. It is a gathering place for other news reporters from the Post-Dispatch. Willie Shrike, who derides Miss Lonelyhearts’ advice but nevertheless urges him to try to increase the paper’s circulation with his piece, is a frequent visitor. It is also the setting where Peter Doyle–an advice seeker like his wife Fay–is introduced to Miss Lonelyhearts. In the end, it is on the stairs leading to Miss Lonelyhearts’ room that the gun in Doyle’s hands explodes, and both roll part of the way down, the Christ-obsessed Miss Lonelyhearts and the nearly redeemed Doyle caught in deadly embrace.

Although New York City does not appear to be quite as sordid as Los Angeles is in Nathaniel West’s The Day of the Locust (1939), the picture of Peter Doyle dragging his lame foot up and down stairways as he reads gas meters is a reminder that the American Dream was not for everyone, even during the so-called Roaring Twenties.

BibliographyAndreach, Robert. “Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts: Between the Dead Pan and the Unborn Christ.” In Twentieth Century Interpretations of “Miss Lonelyhearts”: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Thomas H. Jackson. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971. Analyzes the Pan-Christ antagonism as the unifying principle of West’s novel and the central paradox of twentieth century life, in which paganism violates one’s conscience and Christianity violates one’s nature. Barnard, Rita. “The Storyteller, the Novelist, and the Advice Columnist.” In The Great Depression and the Culture of Abundance. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Contextualizes Miss Lonelyhearts in the mass-media, commercial culture of the 1930’s, and discusses West’s critique of popular art forms.Light, James F. Nathanael West: An Interpretive Study. 2d ed. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1971. Claims West’s compassion for people whose dreams have been betrayed fuses form and content in Miss Lonelyhearts. Describes the novel’s imagistic style, and briefly summarizes its critical reception.Martin, Jay. Nathanael West: The Art of His Life. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1970. An indispensable biographical and critical source. Asserts that the dominant issue in West’s life and art is the loss of value. An appendix documents West’s screenwriting career.Martin, Jay. Nathanael West: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971. In addition to West’s own essays and reviews by his contemporaries, this volume includes essays that study textual revisions and religious experience in Miss Lonelyhearts.
Categories: Places