James T. Farrell Short Fiction Analysis
James T. Farrell’s stories, because of their often graphic language and action and because, perhaps, of their relatively uneven quality, are not often anthologized. His best work comes from the early collections such as Calico Shoes, Guillotine Party, and $1,000 a Week. When his stories remain within the realm of his Chicago youth, he is at his best—even later stories set in Chicago reflect the tough vibrance evident in the likes of “Willie Collins,” “The Triumph of Willie Collins,” and “Saturday Night.”
Farrell’s characters never seem fabricated. They strut and boast. They cringe at frightening things, and they suffer from the inexorable progress of time—perhaps the dominant theme in Farrell’s work. Never conventionally literary, the real nature of Farrell’s stories makes them compelling if not always tasteful and appealing. There is no varnish on Farrell’s rough exterior. The reader is expected to accept the stories in their raw, immediate sense.
The individual is the unsteady center of Farrell’s stories; a large number of his stories are almost vignettes of individuals as they function in daily life. It is this attention to the individual which sets Farrell’s work apart. Farrell’s universe does not admit of predestiny or fortune or, despite his rich Irish Catholic milieu, divine intervention; his individual succeeds or fails by virtue of his own efforts and abilities. The only force beyond...
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