Study Guide

All Fall Down

by James Leo Herlihy

All Fall Down Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Clinton Williams is fourteen years old. His brother, Berry-Berry, is away “on his travels,” begun shortly after his twenty-first birthday. The Williams family recently moved into a house in a different section of Cleveland. Clinton is afraid that Berry-Berry will not be able to find the new house if he should return, and as a gesture of quiet protest he stays away from school for fifty-seven consecutive days. In the daytime, he loafs in the Aloha Sweet Shop, recording in his notebooks everything he sees or overhears. At home he eavesdrops on his parents’ conversations, which he records in his journals as well, along with copies of letters he opens on the sly. During the time he is skipping school, he fills twenty-five notebooks. His entries are naïve, funny, boring, and revealing. His romantic view of Berry-Berry is the first interest of Clinton’s life. The second is his tremendous curiosity about people and the nature of experience, explaining his effort to put down everything he knows and learns in order that he might solve some of life’s mysteries.

In many ways, Clinton is his father’s son. Ralph Williams was a politically active liberal before he was trapped by marriage and a family. Theoretically he is in business, but he spends most of his time in the cellar with a jigsaw puzzle in front of him and a bottle of bourbon within reach. He simplifies his life to two convictions: that Christ founded the Socialist Party and that Berry-Berry will turn out all right in the end. His wife, Annabel, is nervous, querulous, and tearful, constantly wishing for...

(The entire section is 646 words.)