Summary and Analysis
Chapter 4 - Miss Lonelyhearts and the Fat Thumb
Less visual than earlier chapter headings, this one is more subtle but equally successful in summarizing its main point. The fat thumb is Miss Lonelyhearts' tongue, symbolizing his inability to communicate with Betty, from whom he seeks salvation. The thumb also implies brutality in Miss Lonelyhearts' attitude towards Betty. Later, thumbs will be associated with breasts, and breasts with sexual brutality. Most of the themes in this chapter are explicit. Miss Lonelyhearts longs for order in the physical world around him, and he is drawn to Betty because she represents order. It is, however, an order which Miss Lonelyhearts actually dislikes, partly because it lacks violence. Evidently, Miss Lonelyhearts, like Shrike, is fascinated by values that he finds repulsive. Miss Lonelyhearts' tongue is like a fat thumb because he knows that he really can't talk to Betty. He can't articulate his sufferings to her nor adopt her values.
Betty's name suggests the American wholesomeness of apple pie and the girl next door. In a moment of panic, Miss Lonelyhearts takes a taxi to her apartment. She invites Miss Lonelyhearts to stay for dinner, her unconscious version of communion. This is typical of the nourishing gestures she will continue to offer him. When he calls her a Buddah, he is objecting to what he feels is withdrawal, masquerading as warmth, and he is partly right. He experiences hatred for her because she won't take his suffering as seriously as he would like her to, and she can only propose an easy way out of his dilemmas. Just as Shrike caresses his women aggressively, Miss Lonelyhearts is also brutal in his sexual approach to Betty, and he is angered that she labels his actions and views as "sick." Miss Lonelyhearts knows that he has a Christ complex; that is, he acknowledges the artificiality and pride of his desire to save people, but he is not able to make any constructive use of this self-knowledge. He declares his love for mankind, but he immediately wants to strike Betty. He prefers suffering humanity to the relatively healthy and happy Betty because suffering has a morbid fascination for him. He is fearfully suspicious of happiness.
Betty enters the novel abruptly, but she is clearly a part of Miss Lonelyhearts' background. She is probably intended to be a parody of commonsense humanity. Some months ago, Miss Lonelyhearts proposed to her, hoping to enter her world of "normality," but since then he has avoided her in order to remain in his world of suffering. The chapter ends with a minor reversal of attitudes, Betty rejecting Miss Lonelyhearts because he has introduced disorder into her life and, in addition, he has hurt her feelings. In contrast, Miss Lonelyhearts feels superior to Betty but won't give up his claim to her. His failure with her parallels his past failure as a columnist and preludes future ineptitudes for him. But, significantly, Miss Lonelyhearts has not made a decisive break with Betty, and the continuation of their relationship seems likely.