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Free «Religion in Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts» Essay Sample

Religion is as old as the world itself. It influences people’s attitudes, way of life, hope, and faith. In the course of time, the importance of religion in the society has been called into question, but its role remains vital, as far as people are concerned. People fail to embrace religion and hold negative attitudes towards those who firmly believe in it (Stark 59). Faith is central in religion, and it becomes relevant when people are confronted with realities concerning the destiny they have after life on this earth. Religion has shaped the way people live and the world in general into what we know it today. Without religion, clear differences that exist between right and wrong would not exist, thus leaving people with nothing to achieve. Religion is fundamental in people’s lives and has, therefore, caused different individuals to voice their opinions. Many scholars, who hold different views about religion, have written various articles about it. Moreover, a number of them disagree with the role Jews played in the Old and New Covenant.

The essay is an analysis of Miss Lonelyhearts from a religious perspective. The critical issue with this character is if the protagonist as well as the title character is a psychotic fool or a tragic saint. He is just concerned with finding a certain reality in religion to believe in and survive by. However, this quest ends in a dreadful disillusionment. His wish to aid all the anxious of the world, as well as work a miracle for curing cripples comes to a tragic end when Doyle shoots him dead, in much the same way Christ was destroyed by those he had come to save.



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Published in 1933, Nathanael West’s second novel Miss Lonelyhearts expresses his views and ideas on why evil exists in the world (Brian 75). His understanding of evil is mixed and has been influenced by psychological and spiritual perspectives. It also shows how he adopted different ways of handling the challenges he encounters. Unfortunately, none of them provides a reliable and adequate answer to addressing those problems. Living without sound moral and economic conditions makes it even more complex for him to solve them. The writer does not want to be identified as Jew, yet his work displays him as a renowned Jewish novelist. Nathanael’s ideas have shown how spirituality and theology in general have been approached negatively by the society he is living in (Martin 53). The book also expresses negative attitude to the view that everything has already taken place and nothing can be altered.

The reason why homosexuality is described in the book is because of the societal belief that nothing can be changed. The multiple evil activities practiced in the society are due to the lack of a clear approach to evil and good. The book also expresses the society’s longing for God as an ultimate answer to all mysteries. It seeks to explain why people are hungry and thirsty for the truth and real salvation (Hales 46). The ultimate course is far from being reached because of beliefs they hold in the first place. The inability to believe is the first step towards sin, and this is expressed by the fact that Miss Lonelyhearts is unable to love or practice good virtues in life. This also shows how one is exposed to diversions and other people’s faith. This is evident when Miss Lonelyhearts ends up being destroyed by Shrike. It is also evident that before evil extends to others, it must destroy the bearer. Deviation from religion is, therefore, true manifestation of evil and, to some extent, confusion (Barnard 81).

The book also shows how different religious groups, such as Catholics, Protestants, and Hebrews, practice their faith. The author is critical of these practices and says that they contradict the original teachings of religion. He adds that it is better to make the right information available to all people of the world (Hales 25). There is also a great controversy concerning the ways people look like and other people’s perception of that. The story of a girl with a hole in her nose provides no clear answer as to why she is like that. She disregards her family and friends, and, therefore, lacks clear guidance. The writer poses a question about whether there is a gap concerning educating the young on religious matters.

Nathanael West further expresses his opposition to art and vision religion that regarded salvation literature that can be imagined. It is ironic that Shrike does all sort of evil things and then turns to religion for consolation. These evil activities are the source of hunger and thirst in life, which can be nourished by listening to religion as a source of spiritual food (Martin 106). In this case, religion is displayed as a source of comfort or an escape  from reality. It is also expressed as a final thing people desire to have when they are about to die. According to the writer, religion fails to assist man in living a good life, as it is supposed to be. However, this is seen as a choice of an individual.

In a letter to Miss Lonelyhearts, the writer mentions God as the only solution to his troubles. He makes a confession that no other things can comfort or satisfy him. He cites difficulties and many challenges in his life. He also says that no pleasant things, such as women, food or drinks, can heal the sufferings of his heart. However, he is confronted by the facts telling him that it is difficult to believe and have faith, because the days are long gone. He finally depends on the mercy of his savior, as the only thing that can help him resolve the challenges he faces. The writer is also opposed to the Jews’ view about creation and origin.

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Nathanael West always expressed doubts concerning the possibility that there exist absolute values. He also doubted that people could treat one another in a humane way. From his concept of religious practices of various churches, Nathanael always finds a deficit. According to West, humans depend on religion in various ways, but they mostly need it to have an accurate way of viewing values and morals (Brian 82). He believes that these religious groups mislead their followers in some way. He also sees humans grossly mistreat one another, especially during the Great Depression.

Through Shrike’s speeches, Nathanael West satirically confronts art, and even the Bible. The speeches demonstrate dissatisfaction, inability to have a common approach, despair, and immoral sexual behavior. Through them, Shrike is shown as running away from the reality of life and seeking advice on how to handle the challenges he is facing. He also illustrates how the Church and religion fail to give their followers what they need. Through these arguments, religion fails to quench the thirst of its followers (Dianne 79). By begging for advice, he explains the need for quality, relevant and reliable advice to solve his life issues.

Through Shrike, Nathanael West compares religion to Miss Lonelyhearts. “Christ, the Miss Lonelyhearts of Miss Lonelyhearts. America has her own religions.” He portrays Miss Lonelyhearts as sometimes full of confusion and despair; however, in this section, he compares him with religion. It can be used to illustrate the way religion has inadequately presented itself, despite its role in the society. By expecting advice from Miss Lonelyhearts, it shows the great potential that he has. The Church has a great role to play, especially in the right interpretation of the morals and other requirements of the society. Unfortunately, this has failed, according to him. The illusive nature of the society he lives in is covered (Dianne 65). It is so paramount that almost none knows the way, and, therefore, there is a need for sound advice and teaching by example.  

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Frustration with religion makes him seek other ways of coping with his challenges. Compassion, art, violence, and romance are some of these ways, which ultimately show escapism and selfishness. Miss Lonelyhearts has a religious background and experience and is expected to offer advice in that perspective by answering letters. These letters are simple, and yet they express the complexity of issues of life that are yet to be answered. Escapism of Miss Lonelyhearts underscores the fact that religion has failed to fulfill its initial role. Shrike later reminds Miss Lonelyhearts of his role in developing the company, when he makes an attempt to escape from reality. The role of religion is, thus, prominent in the society (Daryl 49). Religion is supposed to be a part of the people it is meant to serve.

Religion in the novel is represented by Christ - a source of spiritual and moral guidance - who is associated with Miss Lonelyhearts. Nathanael’s self-illusion places it central and is not only expected to provide guidance, but also a true solution. However, it is demonstrated as not being equipped with relevant resources that can solve instant challenges. Ironically, the fear and confusion is widespread not only to the followers but also to the church itself (Martin 103). Religion seems the sole provider of the solution the people need. Existence of such terrifying stories is ironical because there should be a solution. The letters also tends to show that the supremacy of religion and its role in the determination of people’s destiny is to be questioned.

The letters written to Miss Lonelyhearts are indeed very painful. The girl with a hole on her face faces challenges in trying to identify the cause of the problem, because she cannot blame anybody around her. In another letter, a husband is forcing his wife to have a child despite a lot of pain and suffering. Religion is seen as a master of all times and stages of human life (Stark 48). Religion can control human life before, during and after death. The same religion is expected to provide answers to all challenges that humans face. Miss Lonelyhearts believes that solutions can only be obtained from Christ. Shrike sticks to his beliefs that Miss Lonelyhearts is capable of providing a solution, because he compares him to Christ and, therefore, a master of religion.

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Religion is also depicted as hysteric, because it has generated much crises and confusion. This includes those who are in it and out of it. Miss Lonelyhearts has also been driven to confusion and is seeking other alternative to his relationship problems, while Shrike has been in conflict with it all along. Miss Lonelyhearts also faces more challenges, while attempting to solve other people’s challenges. Dependence on religion, faith, and dreams is represented as once powerful, but later destructed by modernity and secularism (Barnard 42). This makes it even more difficult to find a solution to the problems facing the society. The multifacetedness of the problem makes it even harder.

Economic hardships, especially during the Great Depression, also contribute to the problems facing the people. The main questions remain: Why is there suffering? Who causes suffering? Is there a supreme control of suffering? When will the solution be delivered and how will this be done? All these issues cause the main conflict in the book. Religion is depicted as a source of conflict of which controversial matters arise. All other available alternatives, such as sex, love, alcohol, and religion, cannot provide a reliable solution.

Miss Lonelyhearts is in great confusion and cannot find any solution. This becomes a greater crisis than it was in the beginning. There are many challenges in religion, because it is viewed as the end of light for all matters. Miss Lonelyhearts first rejected education and other means as a source of solution to these great mysteries. He ends up in a more confused state then the suffering parties. This marks the victory of secularism, which means that the innocent suffering parties will never obtain solutions to their problems (Daryl 88).

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The confusion leads to mental depression, which causes even more problems to people. The whole city is desperate because the ultimate source of solution fails to deliver. Religion is replaced with secularism. Moral decay becomes prevalent, and this seems to close the chapter of finding a solution. The failure of religion is, therefore, the failure of the society. There is a school of thought that posits that everybody is in search of his own course of life. Suffering is widespread, because nobody can provide a way forward. Religion could have been provided as a source of universalism and unity to humans (Stark 99). Therefore, the failure of religion causes more differences and disunity.

Religion is ranked alongside sex and alcohol, because none of them can provide any solution to serious challenges. Being confronted with complex problems leads to escapism and ultimately to religious fanaticism. Miss Lonelyhearts’s attempts to solve other people’s problems are a good example of that. Secularism can, therefore, be regarded as inflicting damage on religion. Miss Lonelyheats, who represents religion, has his esteem damaged by Shrike. Shrike acts as a butcher and destructive birds that destroy peaceful ones. Peaceful co-existence as the ultimate aim of religion is impaired, which means that the solution to existing problems could never be found.

The ultimate aim of religion is seen as struggling with a challenging environment. The aim of challenges in this letters was to cause troubles and play down the role of religion (Brian 56). This is evidenced by Shrike’s behavior, when he reads and mocks all the letters during the party. The search for absolute answers is also a major challenge in a natural perspective. According to Shrike, religion was supposed to provide absolute answers, which was a major challenge.

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The element of religion is applied to the society, which West lived in, to depict a source of life. Early in the morning, Miss Lonelyhearts , who suffers from high fever, looks at everything in the house, but cannot find anything that seems to promise life. Everything seems dead and inactive. After a moment of emotional disturbance, he turns and faces a crucifix, which is fixed on a wall directly opposite his bed. By looking at the crucifix, he realizes that Christ is the source of life and light (Brian 24). After shouting the name of Christ, he discovers that life is gradually coming back to normal, with a swelling on his forehead shrinking and his heart and mind gaining emotional stability. Dream has been applied to present the whole process by which religion, Christ, and God are making life meaningful and helping him realize that things can only work out when he is in agreement with God and is doing what God approves of. The life he gains and the realization of God will make him want to help a crippled visitor, ignoring all the warning signs that the cripple sends to him. This is because he believes that God has sent the cripple as a sign to him, so that he can perform a miracle on the cripple. This arose because he considers himself a spiritual cripple, who was miraculously healed by God (Hales 56). It is only later that it becomes apparent that there is no place for religion and the vision of Christ in the modern world. He realizes how sin, which is represented by the Snake with scales resembling tiny mirrors, was introduced into the world.

The Snake is a symbol of the dead world, because the sin it introduces is seen to meddle with his identification of God. He suddenly falls fast asleep and another series of dreams occur. This time, he perceives himself as a magician. The role of Christ and God is eventually replaced with magic, whereby he perceives himself as a magician who works with doorknobs. The society in which West lives does not seem to embrace religion. This can be clearly seen in the fact that the dream shifts from that of a magician to a different context, where Miss Lonelyhearts gets into an argument with his colleagues over the existence and the role of God. While he holds that God exists and is the ultimate source of life, his colleagues argue to the contrary (Martin 51). This argument ends in disagreement, with him being left alone and the other students going about their businesses. Here, he is left alone to work on the lamb they were slaughtering with his friends. Though injured, the lamb attempts to escape, but he smashes it with a stone. This stone later acts as a metaphorical rock of faith, eventually taking him back to the religious perspective. Even though he is seen to align himself to religion, there are sharp contradictions of the values of Christ with his personal values. This contrast can be seen mostly in his sexual behavior, whereby he does not seem to love his wife, opting instead to indulge in an affair with the cripples’ wife, which leaves him more sexually exhausted (West 75). This further serves to present this society’s non-committal to religion, as they are indulged in immorality without adhering to religious principles.

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Religion is observed to play a role in healing and overcoming suffering in the society. The suffering and illnesses that the society is undergoing cannot be overcome by any application of human efforts, and thus religious intervention is necessary to address these occurrences (Hales 31). The columnist faces multiple challenges, which appear too difficult to be addressed through normal human intervention. The challenges are more of a physical or psychological nature, thus rendering human intervention inappropriate. He seems to disagree with Betty, who observes that any form of freaky behavior arises from some sort of sickness, and can, therefore, be cured with medication. According to him, this is wrong, as there must be some morality basis for any illness that seems unusual.  Miss Lonelyhearts believes that physical or psychological suffering traditionally deserves some religious answers (Brian 45). The society he lives in does not seem to be keen on embracing the religious basis of suffering and illnesses, but rather serves to create misunderstanding and conflict between him and others. He emphasizes the need to seek religious intervention to address such occurrences, as opposed to medical intervention preferred by the rest. Religion is, thus, seen as the only thing that can restore order in the world full of chaos. However, he observes that there is no place for order in this world, which is filled with people who do not see any need to adhere to it.

The whole episode is rooted in disasters and challenges facing the American society. The letters are many and with heavy themes that require more than one approach. Sole dependence on religion makes the whole issue challenging. Though the novel is imbued with symbolism, it is evident that the writer’s main theme is martyrdom. Comparing Miss Lonelyhearts to Christ is a betrayal to the whole religion of whose Christ is the architect. The writer attempts to empower secularism at the expense of religion. Mocking Miss Lonelyhearts is destruction of a courageous attempt to find solution in a society full of crises.

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Religion is as old as the history of humanity. There exit challenges in the society, which religion is expected to solve. These challenges are complex and may require various approaches to handle. Secularism always blames religion as being the main failure. Miss Lonelyhearts is a clear depiction of the challenges of religion. As seen from the discussion, the critical issue with Miss Lonelyhearts is whether the protagonist as well as the title character is a mental fool or a circumstantial saint. His concern is to find some reality in religion in order to believe in, as well as survive by. However, this quest ends in a dreadful disillusionment. His wish to aid all the anxious of the world, as well as work a miracle for curing cripples, comes to a tragic end when Doyle shoots him dead, in much the same way Christ was destroyed by those he had come to save. He fails in his bid to save the people surrounding him, although he feels that love, as well as faith, will definitely make people religious. In fact, he becomes even worse than those he is trying to help, much like Christ who was trying to save humanity and ended up being crucified instead of being glorified. Western society is unkind and does not appear to be ready to conform to religious ways. It is quite unfortunate that those trying to show the lost society the true way become more disillusioned and troubled than the common man. Western society ought to conform to religious ways in order to establish a close relationship with God.


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