Nathaniel West's Miss Lonelyhearts Essay

2692 words - 11 pages

“Life is worth while, for it is full of dreams and peace, gentleness and ecstasy, and faith that burns like a clear white flame on a grim dark altar.” So begins the correspondence of the novella of Nathaniel West, Miss Lonelyhearts (1933). West's work was not only a reaction to the national problems of the Great Depression but to the personal problems generated by the it, and not only for the general public but for himself also. West brought an element of the demure into his writing that characterized both the economic and emotional depression that the 1929 crash had generated among many people in the nation throughout the 1930's. In fewer than sixty pages, West forms a clear critique of both the personal and national lives of American citizens of the early nineteen hundreds. From a clear disregard for the well-being of others to a lack of respect for the world itself, West clearly qualifies the shortcomings of those individuals. Far from solely casting the stone at those outside of himself, West is wont to use the literary figure as both a setting for the turmoil of someone affected by such shortcomings and the vehicle for personal desire, destruction, or change. The power of West's novella lies in its simple depiction of the personal struggle of humanity and decidedly complex representation of humanity's societal struggle. While personal problem's in west's world can be comforted simply by the careful wordsmith, not even the most concerned citizen may alleviate the problems generated by society alone. West uses a depth of imagery and strong character relationships to illustrate the suffering caused by dependence on a society which lacks beauty at every turn.
West's leading character, a newsman who writes an advice column and throughout the story goes only by his monicker, Miss Lonelyhearts, seems to be one of the last true believers in caring for others. Miss Lonelyhearts' column, which begins merely as a publicity stunt to raise sales of the paper, becomes a major force in his life. He begins taking the letters to heart far beyond the constraints of his job. The letters begin to have an effect on his temperament, unintentionally placing him in a morose mindset which leads him to observe the sad truths of his day. In his walk home from work following his first day realizing the morose nature of his employment he takes a walk through the park. Rather than clear his mind, however, his mindset allows him to begin to notice death in the landscape: “As far as he could discover, there were no signs of spring. The decay that covered the surface of the mottled ground was not the kind in which life generates.” (West, 4) His view of lack of life within the city, even within the most fertile parts of it, would come to dominate much of Miss Lonelyhearts' life for weeks to come. His new view of the world only reinforces the depression found in the fabric of the letters thrust upon him by his readers. Only briefly after this introduction to the negativity...

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