Summary and Analysis
Chapter 10 - Miss Lonelyhearts Returns
This chapter's heading suggests at least two overlapping pictures: Miss Lonelyhearts gazing at the misery of the city streets, and Miss Lonelyhearts once more sitting at his desk, ready to give attention to his correspondents' unhappiness. Back in the city, Miss Lonelyhearts knows that Betty and nature have not cured him, and he is relieved that he can return to what he envisions as trying to effect a Christ-like role, a role that would be denied him if he were happy. When Miss Lonelyhearts lived in Betty's world, he felt like a dishonest fool and a betrayer of the wretched letter writers. He sees a poverty-stricken woman avidly picking up a love-story magazine, and a sick man headed towards a romantic movie. These lonely people juxtapose the false dreams of our culture with our actual, ugly and pathetic human situation. Miss Lonelyhearts realizes that the mass media's portrayal of dreams is a betrayal of people's hopes, and he knows that as Miss Lonelyhearts he is part of this conspiracy. But he still feels that if he can discard the cynicism of Shrike — which is really part of himself — he can ease suffering by preaching true Christian virtues. He resolves — and vows — to be humble and sincere, but his decision to write his daily column without reading his letters shows that his resolve is fragile.
Miss Lonelyhearts begins a column about the virtue of Christian suffering, but he recognizes that his stilted style is the Shrike-voice surging up in him. Unable to continue with the column, he turns back to reading the letters, but he does this chiefly to torture himself, as if his only reality were based on suffering. He reads a long letter, one which comprises almost two-thirds of the chapter and is not followed by any further action or commentary. This letter, from Broad Shoulders, comes from a woman who is different from the other correspondents. Unlike the others, she is no passive victim. She has struggled to follow all the basic virtues (the Christianity which Miss Lonelyhearts wanted to preach about) with almost heroic determination. Amidst terrible deprivation, she has cared for her children and her husband. She puts up with and forgives crazy and sadistic behavior from her husband, and has resisted the advances of her sympathetic male boarder, who might have eased her economic suffering after her husband appeared to have run off permanently. However, merely because she seems more intelligent, courageous, and principled than the other correspondents, these qualities seem to have done her no good. She is also a considerably more appealing person than any of the women in the novel's main action, and West may be trying to soften the book's woman-hating tone. It is clear that Miss Lonelyhearts can say nothing to this woman, except perhaps to congratulate her on her strength and virtue. If he tells her that she is a true Christian and will somehow reap the rewards of virtue, he would be fatuous. Her letter closes up the circle of Miss Lonelyhearts' thoughts about his priestly role, although his conscience will continue to be tormented with such thoughts. The novel has now reached a turning point. In the next chapter, West will take his protagonist back to the world which he has insincerely meddled with and will show this world crushing Miss Lonelyhearts physically as well as emotionally.