Summary and Analysis
Chapter 14 - Miss Lonelyhearts and the Party Dress
With this chapter's heading, West returns to his cartoon-like narrative technique; this time, the title pictures Miss Lonelyhearts' mock-enthusiastic courting of Betty as their being a couple of storybook adolescents. Miss Lonelyhearts invites Betty for a strawberry soda, but inwardly he addresses her not as Betty but as "the party dress." He is pretending to have given in to her cheery Pollyanna values, and although he is acting, he does not feel guilty. Nevertheless, the strength which he shows is really sickness, for his rock-like imperviousness serves a different kind of pretense, the pretense of domestic bliss rather than that of priestly sanctity and service. When he learns that Betty is pregnant, he follows convention and proposes marriage. He tells her all that she wants to hear, although he does not really believe in the values that go with his declarations.
Their plan for twin beds for sleeping and a double bed for lovemaking symbolizes the split in Miss Lonelyhearts between desire and propriety. The chapter's last two paragraphs make explicit that Miss Lonelyhearts has been lying to Betty. From inside his fully protected self, he has projected fantasies to make her feel good. But when he leaves her, he prepares to go home to his "voyaging bed."
The clash between Miss Lonelyhearts' desire to play Christ and his knowledge that he can help no one will still torture his body and soul. His situation is impossible. He must quit his job for the sake of his sanity, but if he does this, all he will have left is another equally devastating set of pretenses. The conventional world of Betty's party dress is an artificial fantasy world. But his action in the real world-the world of his correspondents and the pathetic wretches whom he sees on the streets — is, at best, inappropriate and inept, and, at worst, hypocritical and dangerous to himself and others.