Miss Lonelyhearts By Nathanael West Summary and Analysis Chapter 11 - Miss Lonelyhearts and the Cripple

This chapter's heading alludes to its central scene, Miss Lonelyhearts' first encounter with Fay's husband, Peter Doyle, who refers to himself as a cripple almost as obsessively as his wife does. Miss Lonelyhearts, in revolt against Betty's interference, is ready to return to his priestly calling and to offer help to the Doyles. He has no other role left to play and no other claims to make for himself. But his humility is now forced and desperate. Shrike's jibe at the faithless as being "the truly sick" is actually directed towards Miss Lonelyhearts, for Shrike senses the forced quality in Miss Lonelyhearts' faith, and Goldsmith also sees that Miss Lonelyhearts is sick. Shrike's mock praise — he calls the Miss Lonelyhearts of the world modern America's priests — hurts Miss Lonelyhearts because he recognizes his society's false, dreamlike values. By being one of its priests, as it were, Miss Lonelyhearts is a betrayer, and he has acted out the betrayal by giving delusive advice and by going to bed with Fay.

Peter Doyle's wife had pretended to seek advice from Miss Lonelyhearts, but Doyle himself is a person who would really seek Miss Lonelyhearts' help, for he is a weak man in a dead-end situation. West's initial description of Doyle, and his continued description later on, when Miss Lonelyhearts sits down with Doyle, are grotesque. Doyle's crippled condition is clearly severe and painful — he looks, West says, "like a partially destroyed insect." His face is out-of-balance and resembles a composite photograph. This last detail denies Doyle a real identity and makes him a walking summary of Miss Lonelyhearts' correspondents.

Greeting Doyle, Shrike alludes to the Bible text: "What is man that thou art mindful of him?" — implying that Doyle is a representative man. Shrike voices the rejection of Doyle that Miss Lonelyhearts will not allow himself even to think about. Doyle is a meter reader and makes a joke about meter readers replacing icemen in jokes about adultery, a pathetic boast of sexual prowess which he does not have, and an act of which he would disapprove. Doyle is pathetically trying to relate to his new acquaintances by being "one of the boys" — another myth of American life.

When Doyle invites him to dinner that evening, and shortly afterward, when Doyle hands Miss Lonelyhearts a letter about his desperate situation, Miss Lonelyhearts acts with artificial sweetness and in a sympathetic and priestly manner. He is trying to accept what he feels is revolt within himself and within others. Note that before Doyle gives Miss Lonelyhearts the letter, Doyle attempts to express himself in speech, but his jumbled words demonstrate the near-impossibility of real communication from such oppressed people; Doyle is one of the many lonely people who can put his feelings better into a letter; for such people, a speech about his real feelings would be an aggressive act, and in a letter he can rely on clichés. The letter is subservient (Miss Lonelyhearts might help Doyle because Miss Lonelyhearts is educated) and apologetic (Doyle is no "red"), but Doyle does manage a factual account of his miserable situation and a graphic depiction of his deep despair. Doyle's asking "what's the meaning of it all?" is the very question that plagues and frustrates Miss Lonelyhearts.

As the chapter ends, Miss Lonelyhearts forces himself to clasp the hand Doyle accidentally extends under the table. As they sit holding hands, Miss Lonelyhearts represses his disgust and tries to feel love for Doyle. He really wishes to affirm the human bond, but his gesture takes on a homosexual tinge, showing Miss Lonelyhearts inducing shame in himself as punishment for the warmth he allows or forces himself to feel. Miss Lonelyhearts is becoming increasingly self-deluded. He does not see the hypocrisy and danger of trying to help a man whom he has betrayed. His fate is becoming inevitable.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

At Delehanty's speakeasy, Miss Lonelyhearts recalls a childhood memory of his playing the piano while




Quiz