Throughout many of the works of literature set in Chicago, alcohol serves as a motif commented on by many seminal Chicago writers. As we will see, there seems to often be a relationship presented between the extent of the difficulties a character must face, and how hard he/ she drinks as a result.
Farrell demands recognition of the health problems such heavy drinking incurs-- due to Stud's excessive drinking, he suffers a heart attack, gets pneumonia, and is put into a coma: he is essentially dying long before he actually reaches his deathbed. All of this news at once is too much for Mr. Lonigan to handle, and his only escape is to hit the bottle.
This novel gives insight as
to how integral a role alcohol played in the lives of young men in Chicago.
Studs and his friends frequent bars, and practically anytime they are
bored, they turn to drinking, which often leads to other questionable
activities. "The boys run the streets, and grow up in poolrooms,
drink and become hooligans. They don't know any better
kill themselves with diseases from whores and this gin they drink"
(Farrell, 425). One year, Studs gets thoroughly
intoxicated on Christmas day and goes to mass drunk. Later, Studs must
get his stomach pumped at the hospital in order to prevent alcohol poisoning.
Drinking was a big part of the lives of boys such as Studs, and at times
it seemed like the only aspect of their lives. Alcohol was used to escape
boredom, sorrow, and any other problems in one's life.
Interestingly, Nelson Algren's The Man with the Golden Arm presents an example of bootlegging after the end of Prohibition. In the book, a World War II veteran, nicknamed Frankie Machine, falls back in love with a neighborhood stripper, Molly Novotny. Unfortunately, both Molly and Frankie are married. Early in the book, Algren slips in an implication that bootlegging is still going on, even decades after the end of Prohibition. "Drunkie John [Molly's husband] had left her for his first and truest love: the bottle without a name" (Algren, 107). As we saw in our Prohibition page, bootlegging continued throughout the years after Prohibition was repealed in order to forego taxes at times when alcohol was taxed very heavily (including during World War II). These drinks were almost always without labels or were poured into previously used bottles.
Many Chicago authors, then,
seem to use alcohol as another means of developing an image of the city
as either (1) the ruthless "city of big shoulders," a meaning
presented most clearly in the poetry of Carl Sandburg, from which alcohol
provides a relief; or (2) corruptive, forcing a moral depravity and vice
upon its passengers and subjects of which alcohol consumption is a part.
Only in Algren do we see a truly sympathetic portrayal of alcohol consumption,
though the aura of the city as inducing criminal activity and extra-legal
behavior persists. The Man with the Golden Arm demands that our humanity
is largely a feature of our failures, of our shortcomings, that these
make us more human than our perfections. In such a context, the use of
alcohol is almost natural, the perfect vehicle for release and simultaneous
self-destruction. Algren inverts the criticism of alcohol so seemingly
inherent in Wright and Farrell, using the escape it provides as a justification
for its use. A friend, Applejack, who Frankie meets in prison begs him
not to take the anti-psychotic drugs they try to give many prisoners.
"I like my little old new-rosis. It's all I got 'n I'm holdin' onto
it hard. My advice to you is hold onto yours: lay off them psychos. Look
out for the major. When guys like you 'n me get square we're dead"
/// © Taylor Hales and Nikolas Kazmers, All Rights Reserved, 2004 \\\