Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Gibbsville

Gibbsville. Pennsylvania town that John O’Hara invented for this novel and to which he repeatedly returned in his later books. Here, the central character is hard-drinking car dealer Julian English. O’Hara always valued getting his details precisely correct, so he tells readers that Gibbsville’s population in 1930 is 24,032. A minor character in the novel has occasion to think that Gibbsville is exactly 94.5 miles from Philadelphia. O’Hara knows these details well because his fictional Gibbsville, in his fictional Lantenengo County corresponds closely with the real town of Pottsville in Pennsylvania’s Schuylkill County—the heart of the eastern part of the state’s Pennsylvania Dutch and anthracite coal regions. The son of a respected Irish doctor, O’Hara grew up in Pottsville, and although he moved away as a young man, his imagination continually drew back to the region. Like his contemporary, William Faulkner, who also wrote with a great deal of historical, topographical, and sociological accuracy about his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi, scarcely veiling the town’s identity by giving it a fictional name, O’Hara makes no attempt to obscure the real identity of Gibbsville.

Although O’Hara’s own life in Pottsville was reasonably secure and happy, he does not sentimentalize Gibbsville, especially in the rather dark Appointment in Samarra. At one point, Julian English thinks of Gibbsville as a small room. He has a point. Living in the shadow of New York, Philadelphia, and even Reading, Pennsylvania, Gibbsville’s residents, especially members of its social elite, like Julian, have deep insecurities that often cause them to become small-minded and narrow. Both magnanimous and petty characters inhabit all social levels in O’Hara’s world, but strains begin to show among Gibbsville’s wealthy because of their dependence on the waning anthracite coal industry and their times, on the verge of a Great Depression. The pressures Julian faces, brought on by...

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Appointment in Samarra Historical Context

World War I
World War I began in 1914 because of a series of events triggered by the assassination of Archduke Francis...

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Appointment in Samarra Literary Style

Point of View
Appointment in Samarra features an omniscient narrator who tells the story from the points of view of several...

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Appointment in Samarra Literary Techniques

Although O'Hara is not commonly regarded as an experimentalist in fiction, the uses of time, narrative perspective, and style in...

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Appointment in Samarra Social Concerns

Set in the coal-mining region of Eastern Pennsylvania in which O'Hara grew up, Appointment in Samarra focuses on the issues of social...

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Appointment in Samarra Compare and Contrast

1900: The divorce rate for America at the turn of the twentieth century per 1,000 people is 0.7. Out of 76,212,168 people living in...

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Appointment in Samarra Topics for Further Study

Certain critics have accused O’Hara of misogyny in his writings. Research their claims and determine whether O’Hara’s texts support or...

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Appointment in Samarra Literary Precedents

To the extent that Appointment in Samarra can be considered a novel of manners, detailing the social interaction of people in a...

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Appointment in Samarra Related Titles

Although Appointment in Samarra is not part of a series of novels that are sequels to one another, it does introduce characters that...

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Appointment in Samarra What Do I Read Next?

Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, published first in 1877, centers around a sophisticated woman and her demise as she pursues her true...

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Appointment in Samarra Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Jefferson, Margo, “Books of the Times; Reissues of 2 Novels by O’Hara,” in The New York Times, January 18,...

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Appointment in Samarra Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Bier, Jesse. “O’Hara’s Appointment in Samarra: His First and Only Real Novel.” College English 25, no. 2 (November, 1963): 135-141. Compares O’Hara’s first novel favorably with Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1926), but questions the importance of the rest of O’Hara’s work.

Bruccoli, Matthew J. The O’Hara Concern: A Biography of John O’Hara. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995. A slightly expanded edition of the most complete biography of O’Hara, first published in 1975 and written with the cooperation of O’Hara’s widow. Discusses the sources and background of...

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