Appointment in Samarra Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Julian English is thirty years old, a congenial seller of cars and popular with the country club set. He has the right connections with Ed Charney, the local bootlegger, and consequently is always well supplied with liquor. He and Caroline have been married four years. Both natives of Gibbsville, they have an assured social position and no children.

Just before Christmas, they go to a party at the country club. As usual, Julian has too much to drink. He sits idly twirling his highball and listening to Harry Reilly’s stories. Harry is a rich Irish Catholic and definitely a social climber. Julian dislikes Harry, although Harry loaned him twenty thousand dollars the previous summer to bolster his Cadillac agency. That loan does not give Harry the right to make passes at Caroline, Julian thinks darkly. Harry tells stories in paragraphs. He always pauses at the right time. Julian keeps thinking how fitting it would be if he stopped the stories by throwing his drink in Harry’s face. Julian grows bored. On impulse he does throw his drink in Harry’s face. A big lump of ice hits Harry in the eye.

On the way home, Julian and Caroline quarrel furiously. Julian accuses his wife of infidelity with Harry, among others. Caroline says that Julian always drinks too much and chases women as well. More important, Harry has a mortgage on the car agency and a good deal of influence with the Catholics, and he is a man who can hold a grudge.

Al Grecco is a little man who, as Ed Charney’s handyman, has a certain standing in the town. He likes Julian because Julian is the only one of the social set who is really friendly. Al grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. Before he was finally sentenced to a year in prison, he was arrested several times. When he got out, he worked in a poolroom for a while until his boss died. The widow wanted Al to stay on as manager, but he went to work for Charney. Now he delivers bootleg booze, runs errands, and keeps an eye on Helene Holman, the torch singer at the Stage Coach, a country inn owned by Charney. Helene is Charney’s girl, but Charney knows that if she is not carefully watched, she might, out of sheer good-heartedness, extend her favors to other men.

On Christmas Day, Julian wakes up with a hangover. As is his custom, he quarrels with the cook. At Caroline’s suggestion, he goes to Harry’s house to apologize. Although Harry’s sister is sympathetic, she brings down word that Harry will not see him; he has a black eye and is still perturbed.

Julian’s father and mother come for Christmas dinner. The father, a staid, successful surgeon, is always looking for evidence of moral weakness in Julian, for his own father committed suicide after embezzling a fortune. He is afraid that the English inheritance is stained. Dinner is a trying occasion.

Caroline and Julian have supper at the club....

(The entire section is 1180 words.)

Appointment in Samarra Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Appointment in Samarra was O’Hara’s first published novel. For a 1953 Modern Library edition of the book, O’Hara wrote a foreword recounting how he had composed it. He wrote it over the period from September, 1933, to March, 1934, in a small hotel room in New York City. He worked five nights a week—he had developed a preference for nighttime writing during his early years in newspaper work. After completing the first twenty-five thousand words, O’Hara submitted the manuscript to Harcourt, Brace & Company. Alfred Harcourt was impressed with what he read and subsequently gave the young author a subsidy of fifty dollars a week until the novel was finished.

O’Hara credits Dorothy Parker with giving him, indirectly, the title of the novel. He had been using “The Infernal Grove” as a working title until the day Parker showed him a copy of W. Somerset Maugham’s play Sheppy (1933). It contained Maugham’s rendering of the Samarra legend: A servant meets Death, in the form of a woman, in the marketplace at Baghdad. He imagines that she makes a threatening gesture. Terrified, he borrows his master’s horse and flees to Samarra. Death later tells the master that she was startled rather than threatening when she came upon the servant in the marketplace: She was surprised to see him in Baghdad, for she had an appointment to meet him that night in Samarra. O’Hara believed that Appointment in Samarra was the perfect title for the story of his doomed protagonist, Julian English. Parker disapproved of the title, as did O’Hara’s editor and publisher, but he stubbornly insisted upon it and, in the end, had his way.

The setting is Gibbsville, Pennsylvania, in 1930. Many of O’Hara’s stories would be set in Gibbsville, which was no doubt modeled upon his own hometown of Pottsville. He uses Gibbsville as a study of American society in microcosm and is, therefore, often compared to Balzac and Faulkner. In fact, he referred to Gibbsville on at least one occasion as his version of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County.

Julian English is thirty years of age. He sells automobiles, and he and his wife, Caroline, are well accepted in Gibbsville society. The Great Depression has just to begun, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s world of the roaring twenties has come to its apocalyptic end. For this reason, and because of certain stylistic similarities, O’Hara has been called Fitzgerald’s successor as a chronicler of American society. The novel is also reminiscent of Sinclair Lewis in its depiction of small-town businessmen—their shallowness, superficiality, and class consciousness. Some critics see the influence of Ernest Hemingway as...

(The entire section is 1102 words.)

Appointment in Samarra Summary

John O’Hara’s novel Appointment in Samarra is the story of the rapid descent and demise of Julian English over the course of three...

(The entire section is 1311 words.)