Summary and Analysis Chapter 2


The heading of Chapter 1 presented a picture of Miss Lonelyhearts sitting alone, listening to a barrage of desperate and unanswerable voices. The second chapter's heading creates an image of Shrike as a figure looming over Miss Lonelyhearts' world. On the surface, "dead pan" refers to Shrike's expressionless face as he delivers his humorous jibes. On a deeper level, "Dead Pan" is the god of pagan values — the belief in nature as good and sensuality as joyous, religious values that Christianity has tried to replace with its own opposing creeds. Shrike, in fact, tries to live by these pagan values, but he also sees their inadequacies, and he is spiritually dead. He mocks himself, as well as the world and Miss Lonelyhearts.

Miss Lonelyhearts seeks solace in drink and also in a brief sojourn through nature in the park. But the park is a wasteland paralleling his soul. Like Miss Lonelyhearts, it needs a spiritual drink, but such a drink will not really help either him or the park. Miss Lonelyhearts has nothing to offer his lonely, sad writers but stones, an allusion to Christ's mockery of those who offer stones instead of bread. The ridicule which he attributes to Shrike is really his own ridicule, directed inward, as well as outward to his readers. The sky is empty of religious omens and signs, and not long after Miss Lonelyhearts enters the speakeasy, he hears Shrike's mock-celebration of the humanistic values of the renaissance, values which Shrike counter-poses to those of Christianity. However, as Shrike describes them, these values are related more to drinking, murder, and lechery than to art. His allusion to the manuscripts and mistresses in Robert Browning's "The Bishop Orders His Tomb" satirizes the sensual hypocrisy in renaissance Christianity. Shrike correctly notes that Miss Lonelyhearts is really very interested in women and makes fun of Miss Lonelyhearts' identification with Christ. The "deadness" of Shrike's appearance contrasts with his fantastic and sensual words. Shrike's report on a bizarre religion that seeks salvation through adding-machine rituals suggests that modern religion has been reduced to the purely repetitive and mechanical (as do, in different ways, the letters written to Miss Lonelyhearts). The chapter concludes with Shrike acting with brutal tenderness towards Miss Farkis (whose name seems to combine the idea of a joke and a squirt of air). This linking of tenderness and aggression, repeated throughout the novel, implies that most of the characters hate their love objects and seek to relieve aggressions and sexual desires simultaneously. Shrike's monstrous parody-description of human innards as tropical growths deflates the natural values he claims to praise, and at the same time, he accuses Christianity of being equally and disgustingly sensual (Christ's wounds resemble women's sexuality). This decadent flight of fancy prepares for Shrike's aggressive sexual conquest of Miss Farkis.

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