Judgment Day, which begins with a “devotion to be said at the beginning of the mass for the dead,” is the third volume of the Studs Lonigan trilogy. It begins, appropriately, with Shrimp Haggerty’s funeral and ends with Studs’s death, but the novel also chronicles the death of the American Dream and the fall of the middle-class Irish Catholic community in Chicago. Farrell elaborates on the racism and political intolerance of the first two novels and adds anti-Semitism to the ills that afflict not only his characters but also American society.
In the course of Judgment Day, Studs declines physically, suffers a heart attack, cannot find work during the Depression, and finally dies—but not before impregnating his intended bride, Catherine. Although he still looks to his past exploits as the key to his identity, the self-doubt and fear increase until even his Walter Mitty dreams of being a champion golfer and a secret service agent falter: Even his imagination fails him. He cannot ignore the baseball game in which he fails miserably, thereby signaling the end of the athletic prowess that helped shape his identity. As in the second novel, he attends a film in which he empathizes with the hero; but this time the title of the film, Doomed Victory, and the hero’s death ironically foreshadow Studs’s life and death.
In Judgment Day, Studs seems to have lost his unrealized poetic nature and becomes almost inarticulate. Unable to communicate with Catherine, he enjoys “a vision of himself as a strong man whose words always meant something,” yet his squabbles with her usually result from his silences. He also is unable to act and watches his stock plummet in value until he realizes that he is trapped financially, sexually, and vocationally. Standing before the mirror, a self-pitying Studs ironically tells his image, “You’re the real stuff.” Whatever Studs is, he is the product of his environment and is his father’s son—a procrastinating, sentimental person who believes in the fraternity of the St. Christopher Society, the platitudes of the Church, and the American Dream (itself symbolized by a dance marathon). All fail him, as they have failed his father, and as they will fail his brother, who emulates Studs.