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Written by Timothy Sexton
Dear Abby was not really named Abby. Ann Landers’ real name was not Ann Landers. In fact, the true identity of these two most famous examples of the writer of an advice to the lovelorn newspaper column were actually sisters who were both capable of enjoying the conflicting pleasures of anonymity and fame. The fact that the titular character of Miss Lonelyhearts is a man who is nevertheless always referred to by that gender-confused title reflects both the novel’s theme of alienation and the authenticity of the world of advice columnists which once proliferated in the world of newspaper publishing to nearly the same degree as comic strips. While not a whole lot is learned about the real identity of Miss Lonelyhearts, each turn of the page expands the significance of his symbolic role as his angst and emotional turmoil deepens to the point where he embraces his sacrificial role as a Christ-figure.
A shrike is family of bird various species that kills its prey through the singularly unique practice of impaling the poor victim on the sharp point of a thorn…where it will leave the uneaten parts until it gets hungry again. Keep that in mind as you get to know the feature editor at the newspaper who relishes his role as the supervising boss of Miss Lonelyhearts. Surprisingly, perhaps, the means of fulfilling his symbolic role as the personification of his predatory namesake by sticking a cold sharp blade not into the flesh of his underling, but his precarious psyche. Shrike’s unending and unendurable mockery of those desperate enough to seek the help of a stranger writing a newspaper column to solve their most intense emotional problems is far more effective on someone who has come to view themselves as a sacrificial lamb taking on the sins of everyone else.
Willie’s wife looks to other men for a curiously platonic series of affairs. One of those men is Miss Lonelyheart. Shrike proves that his bottomless capacity of nihilism is not just an act by preferring that Mary kiss and play footsie as the alternative is only to going to reach in his pockets and take away money better spent on himself.
The most innocent figure in the novel is Betty, but there is within her virginity and purity a kind of oblivious delusion of the sort that Shrike finds so incredibly entertaining in the most vile sense. Betty is as naïve as Shrike is jaded and Miss Lonelyhearts is angst-ridden, but something about her suggests that her good girl personality has been unwittingly contrived from watching too many movies and reading too many romances.
You can’t really consider yourself a bona fide Christ-like figure if there is no one around to play the role of Judas. Fortunately for Lonelyheart’s own delusion, Peter Doyle is there to fill that role quite nicely. Like most of those who seek advice from the columnist, Doyle is a grotesque figure both literally and figurative. Doyle suffers from a physically crippled foot, a sexually crippling marriage and an intellectually crippling inability to be easily manipulated. The result proves crucifying to Miss Lonelyhearts.
Fresh from emasculating her submissive husband, Mrs. Peter Doyle sets her sights on Miss Lonelyhearts. The advice to the lovelorn columnist should have this tragic convergence psychologically scarred people waking naked up Fifth Avenue, of course, but therein lies the irony of the novel. Suffice to say that Fay Doyle likely has quite the collection of castrated male reproductive parts hanging up some secret shrine somewhere.
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