Summary and Analysis
Chapter 7 - Miss Lonelyhearts on a Field Trip
This chapter's heading is one of the most effectively satirical lines in the novel. The "field trip" ostensibly takes Miss Lonelyhearts out of his confined office and into the world where his correspondents live and suffer. The "field," however, turns out to be Fay Doyle's body, and Miss Lonelyhearts makes his trip to satisfy his lusts, not to gather knowledge useful for his "priestly calling." The section opens with Miss Lonelyhearts back at his desk in a state of reverie. Statistics about murder and about home runs by Babe Ruth blend in his mind, suggesting that for the journalist and for the popular mind, murder is just another entertainment. These events take place, in West's words, in an imaginary desert, a desert which encloses Miss Lonelyhearts' desperate correspondents, who, spelling his name out with imaginary clam shells, look towards him as a picturesque Redeemer.
After Miss Lonelyhearts reads Fay Doyle's letter, he plans a sugary and trite pep-talk for his readers, but the imaginary desert reappears and his correspondents are now spelling out his name with random junk, adding even more ugliness to the desolation of the earlier fantasy.
Note here that Goldsmith, Miss Lonelyhearts' colleague, delivered Fay Doyle's letter to Miss Lonelyhearts with a knowing leer, for he has already read it, and he and Miss Lonelyhearts enact sort of a comic routine. Then Miss Lonelyhearts tosses the letter into the wastebasket, but as soon as he imagines his name spelled out with junk, he retrieves the letter. Fay's letter echoes the misogyny of the entire novel, this time from a woman's viewpoint, as Fay declares her distrust of women. In particular, Fay expresses scorn for her crippled husband as if his being crippled is the whole of his identity and prevents him from being a real husband. She has seen Miss Lonelyhearts — he was pointed out to her in Delehanty's — and the help that she really wants is not advice. Fay wants and needs sex with Miss Lonelyhearts. Interestingly, Miss Lonelyhearts' fantasy, as he reads her letter, indicates that he expects to have sex with her. The passage, then, fuses two grim jokes. West likens Fay to "a pink tent," and this image recalls the description of Goldsmith's cheeks as "rolls of pink toilet paper," and Fay's being "a skeleton in a water closet" (a bathroom) transfers the skeleton from the traditional closet to the realm of the toilet. Furthermore, the image of a skeleton symbolizes both Fay's disguised intention towards Miss Lonelyhearts and Miss Lonelyhearts' motives beneath his Christ pose. Additional images continue to debase the idea of sex, and as the chapter continues, the notion of sex as excretion predominates. Ideally, Miss Lonelyhearts would like to resist this sexual temptation. If Christ were real, and adultery a sin, he could find order in the world and he would have a basis for advice for himself as well as for his readers. But he can't find sufficient faith. Telephoning Fay, he sees two disembodied genitals drawn on the wall of the phone booth, a perfect image for the impersonal sex which he is headed towards. Fay pretends to be coy, but succeeds in luring Miss Lonelyhearts, and, symbolically, he suggests that they rendezvous near a tall, phallic park obelisk. This seductress is the third of the trinity of women whom Miss Lonelyhearts pursues. Her name suggests a fairy lightness, the opposite of her real physical appearance and character, and her flirtatiousness has neither the timid pretense of Mary Shrike nor the aggressive propriety of Betty. A virtuoso satirical paragraph introduces Fay, grotesquely emphasizing her strength, masculinity, and aggressiveness. Her feigned reluctance to go to Miss Lonelyhearts' apartment (a cliché speech) melts instantly, and almost immediately they are locked in an embrace. This episode makes it clear that Miss Lonelyhearts is more easily aroused when a woman pursues him than when he must do the pursuing. Moments later, they are in bed together, and their encounter is presented in another compact and satirical passage. Fay's identification with the movement of the sea makes her a symbolic earth mother or sea goddess, but her behavior is disgustingly animal, or fishlike, and Miss Lonelyhearts' being worn out by the lovemaking is emphatically joyless.
The two plunge into bed after exchanging only a few words, and after the event, Fay acts out a series of apologies, insincerely accusing herself of immorality and implying that her husband is impotent. Then she supplies an even better excuse for her adultery by narrating the story of her seduction and betrayal by Tony Benelli. This is the standard story of "the betrayed girl," but completely lacking in poetry or romance. Her liaison with Benelli is, seemingly, as impersonal as her relationship with her husband — "that cripple" — and her relationship with Miss Lonelyhearts. Possibly Fay's account of Benelli is supposed to be a fabrication or an exaggeration, for his receiving her at his home with his wife present is difficult to believe. Fay's confession and its possible exaggeration are reminiscent of Mary Shrike's tale of her past. But Fay's description of her husband's desire to be known as Lucy's father is wholly convincing, and her stupid and cruel denunciation of her husband for his attachment to Lucy also has the ring of truth. As this episode ends, Miss Lonelyhearts makes a halfhearted effort to return to his priestly role by telling Fay that her husband loves her and her child — typical and not unsound advice for her problem — but this is not what Fay wants to hear. She doesn't want advice or moralisms. She wants Miss Lonelyhearts' body again, and as she grabs him, he turns into a limp object, but she drags him back into bed.
Miss Lonelyhearts' experience with Fay is grotesque and comic, but its main purpose is to dramatize his weakness and ineffectuality — aspects of his character that have been implied more subtly in the earlier chapters. Miss Lonelyhearts either drifts aimlessly into situations or is pushed into them by others. However, now that he made a decision to meet Fay and after he passively accepted her sexual favors, he has put himself into a morally untenable and potentially dangerous position.