Summary and Analysis
Chapter 9 - Miss Lonelyhearts in the Country
Although this chapter's heading appears to be straightforward and idyllic, the country idyll actually contains much of the illusion, threat, and decay that Miss Lonelyhearts hoped to leave behind in the city. Betty continues her role from the preceding chapter — that is, she continues to be the nurturing mother, bearing soup and trying to make the naughty child forget about things which he can do nothing to solve. If Miss Lonelyhearts will just "forget suffering and Christ," she implies, his sickness will go away. Again, she argues for the healing power of nature and the country. Miss Lonelyhearts is smugly amused at her notion that zoo animals will comfort him, but when she provides transportation to a farm owned by her aunt, he is willing to take a chance and also to pursue his pleasures.
As they approach the Connecticut farm, nature is initially attractive, but the farmhouse contains the smell of wood rot. Betty immediately busies herself in housewifely fashion to clean it up, showing the same kind of simple determination with which she tries to sweep the rot from Miss Lonelyhearts' mind. Their first day and night are almost idyllic, but, by accident, Betty scares away some deer they are watching, and later when they go to bed, her refusal to be intimate with him parallels his encounters with Mary Shrike and Fay Doyle. Earlier, Mary had teased him coyly, acting the sensitive and wounded soul, whereas Fay seduced him outright, then immediately afterward, pretended it was "bad." Once more, in Betty's refusal, she is pretending to be the "good, clean girl."
Their second country day contains harsh signs of discord. When the gas station attendant tells Miss Lonelyhearts that the yids (Jews), rather than the hunters, drive off the deer, Miss Lonelyhearts makes no comment, but the irrationality and hatred contained in the bigoted statement affect him. They are echoes of the self-righteous brutality of the oppressor figures who are described in the letters written to Miss Lonelyhearts. Also, the fact that the deer at the pond fled from a noise made by Betty implies that Betty is not as intimate with nature as she thinks she is. After the garage man's speech, Miss Lonelyhearts begins to notice evidence of death and rottenness — even in the woods. Since the time of the year can be no later than very early spring (there was snow in the city park only a few days ago), the presence of this deathly vegetation is realistic, but Miss Lonelyhearts is keenly aware of it and is oppressed by it because it mirrors his mood. Clearly, even a casual sign of human evil, as in the gas station attendant's remark, can resurrect his former despair. In such a world, nature is not the healing force that Betty assures him that it is.
The rest of the day drags a little for both Betty and Miss Lonelyhearts. Out of boredom, they swim briefly and nip on gin, and Betty does some laundry. In this atmosphere, Betty is able to discard her coy inhibitions and make love to Miss Lonelyhearts. Her nakedness while hanging up clothes in front of Miss Lonelyhearts indicates that she wants to tempt and seduce him. Her breasts' resemblance to pink thumbs is reminiscent of Mary Shrike's death-associated breasts and of Miss Lonelyhearts' tongue being a fat thumb. These associations suggest that Miss Lonelyhearts expresses his real self by pursuing sex, but this pursuit always leads to a kind of death. Nevertheless, Miss Lonelyhearts' moment of lovemaking with Betty provides a brief reprieve for him. It contrasts with his deep-seated despair and illness. Even this scene, however, is not entirely happy. West notes that the thrush's song sounds like a flute choked with saliva. Thus, we are left with a feeling of limited happiness. The combined smell of sweat, soap, and grass as the pair make love seems to symbolize the difficulty of scrubbing natural impulses clean. The lovemaking seems distinctly temporary.