Preparing to teach an MFA course on American Satires at the Otis College of Art + Design in the Fall, I recently reread Nathanael West's Miss Lonelyhearts (1933).
Miss Lonelyhearts, my friend, I advise you to give your readers stones. When they ask for bread don't give them crackers as does the Church, and don't, like the State, tell them to eat cake. Explain that man cannot live by bread alone and give them stones.
Despite his superior's cynical advice and the writer's attempt to laugh at himself, Miss Lonelyhearts realizes: "He had given his readers many stones; so many, in fact, that he had only one left—the stone in his gut."
...Doyle's damp hand accidentally touched his under the table. He jerked it away, but then drove his hand back and forced it to clasp the cripple's. After finishing the letter, he did not let go, but pressed it firmly with all the love he could manage. At first the cripple covered his embarrassment by disguising the meaning of the clasp with a handshake, but he soon gave
in to it and they sat silent, hand in hand.
It is only after this homoerotic experience that Miss Lonelyhearts is prepared to give in to the easy "normality" that stands as a false image of true love. He agrees to marry Betty, attended with all the legalistic decision-making of any new partnership: she agrees to have a child, he agrees to see a friend about a job. "...They decided to have three beds in their bedroom. Twin beds for sleep, very prim and puritanical, and between them a love bed, an ornate double bed with cupids, nymphs and Pans." It is clear that love will be more a symbol in that household than an everyday reality.
God had sent him so that Miss Lonelyhearts could perform a miracle and be certain of his conversion. It was a sign. He would embrace the cripple and the cripple would be made whole again, even as he, a spiritual cripple, had been made whole.
Confused and frightened by the rushing man, Doyle attempts to escape, but in their fall, accidentally it appears, shoots him with a gun he has wrapped within a newspaper. The false, the dark hypocrisy of that newsprint world of lies, wins yet again, destroying, evidently, any chance of life and light. And so ends West's brutal satire of love.
Los Angeles, July 19, 2010
Reprinted from Green Integer Blog (July 2010).