In "A Walk on the Wild Side" by Nelson Algren, how did Kitty Twist turn into the "demented" Floralee? Are the two characters the same?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the novel, the prostitutes who pretend to be virgins are supposed to cry and struggle a little before they succumb to Big Stingaree's "charms." Essentially, these prostitutes engage in play-acting to fulfill the perverted fantasies of Finnerty's male customers. For her part, Floralee flouts Finnerty's express orders on how to execute her role. When Big Stingaree tries to engage her in his role as chief "deflowerer," Floralee takes off every stitch of her clothing and begins to sing bawdy songs. It can be argued that Floralee is an uninhibited woman; however, her later actions show that her lifestyle has stripped her of dignity and hope. She is a broken woman, both mentally and spiritually.

Although the author contends that the trials of life can inspire personal growth, this isn't evident in Kitty Twist's and Floralee's cases. In the novel, Kitty Twist tries to get Finnerty to hire her as one of the "virgins." However, he refuses to do so, pointing out that Kitty has unsightly tattoos on her body. Kitty offers to keep her clothes on, but Finnerty's cynical response stops her in her tracks: "They’d want their money back...get down to the door where you’re supposed to be and don’t let me catch you off your post again."

Kitty Twist fails to understand on a psychological level the sort of deception she must engage in to qualify as a "virgin": "She did not perceive that had she only acted reluctant about performing, he would have appointed her to be deflowered upstairs instead of merely to stand guard below, hour upon dull hour." In other words, Kitty lives in a "twisted" world, where the line that separates reality from fantasy has been grossly blurred.

On the other hand, Floralee has existed in this world for so long that she can no longer differentiate between reality and fantasy. In the novel, we learn that she was initially Finnerty's lover before he became her pimp ("First he had made her his pleasure, then he had made her his trade"). Whenever she fails to live up to Finnerty's expectations of how a "virgin" should act, Finnerty beats her. Their relationship is dysfunctional on more than a physical level. Floralee's descent into madness is inevitable, and eventually Kitty Twist also displays a similar psychosis. Floralee believes that God has rejected her, while Kitty Twist wishes that death would claim her. Knowing that life has passed her by, Kitty Twist becomes apathetic:

She didn’t care for anything or anyone, least of all herself. Anything that happens has a right to happen, so what does it matter who it happens to? That was how Kitty felt.

It is obvious by the end of the novel that Kitty Twist is no different than the demented Floralee: the women's lifestyles have so degraded them that they no longer care to differentiate between reality and fantasy. 

teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You are right that Kitty Twist and Floralee are two different characters in the novel. Floralee is a deranged prostitute who works at Oliver Finnerty's brothel. Her main job is to pretend to be a virgin Dove (Big Stingaree) deflowers while men watch through peepholes. 

On the other hand, Kitty Twist is an old acquaintance of Dove's. They part ways earlier in the book and meet up again when Dove begins to work for Oliver Finnerty. Kitty Twist and Floralee are two different women; however, the degrading work they perform (both are prostitutes) negatively affects their mental and physical well-being. Through the two women, Algren highlights the elusiveness of the American Dream for those who exist on the margins of society.


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A Walk on the Wild Side

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