Critical Evaluation

The Lost Weekend is both a psychologically realistic study of an alcoholic personality and an intensely dramatic narrative. Author Charles Jackson demonstrates that he is adept at various modern fiction techniques, and his protagonist Don Birnam—like the intelligent, sensitive alcoholics in the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway—transcends the nineteenth century stereotype of alcoholics as villains or lowlifes. Jackson, however, also diverges sharply from Fitzgerald’s and Hemingway’s tendency to treat alcoholism as a somewhat noble and artistic reaction to the cruel bourgeois world. Don’s “modern” sensibilities serve only as fuel for the flame of alcoholic rationalization, and the real life of the alcoholic is revealed in The Lost Weekend as being the furthest thing from noble.

The Lost Weekend has many autobiographical elements; Jackson admitted that all but two of the plot points in the story were taken from his own experiences, and he clearly understands the terror, loneliness, and hopelessness of the drinker. His accomplishment is even more noteworthy because he is working against type. On the surface, Don Birnam is the antithesis of the hopeless drunk: He is sensitive, articulate, well dressed, and from a good family. Unlike the typical problem drinker in literature, Don never denies that he is an alcoholic. He is acutely aware of his other psychological problems, yet self-knowledge is no help. He has drunk himself out of society and into an unhealthy dependent relationship with his younger brother and his former fiancé, and he teeters on the brink of destitution and institutionalization. He is not a romantic hero; he is only a constant source of frustration and sometimes a...

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