Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


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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Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

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

(The entire section is 1164 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

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

(The entire section is 399 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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

(The entire section is 234 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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

(The entire section is 225 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 194 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

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

(The entire section is 109 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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

(The entire section is 167 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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

(The entire section is 111 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

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

(The entire section is 182 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

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

(The entire section is 127 words.)


(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 Appointment in Samarra and argues that O’Hara is a major writer. Good bibliography.

Donaldson, Scott. “Appointment with the Dentist: O’Hara’s Naturalistic Novel.” Modern Fiction Studies 14, no. 4 (Winter, 1968-1969): 435-442. Argues that O’Hara was writing a naturalistic, as opposed to a didactic, novel and that this accounts for the novel’s lukewarm acceptance.

Eppard, Philip B. Critical Essays on John O’Hara. New York: G. K. Hall, 1994. Includes reprints of the essays by Bier and Donaldson described here and provides further material on Appointment in Samarra.

Grebstein, Sheldon N. John O’Hara. New York: Twayne, 1966. The earliest and one of the most balanced book-length assessments of O’Hara’s controversial career. Identifies the forces at work in Appointment in Samarra as fate, society, free will, self-knowledge, sex, and money.

Long, Robert Emmet. John O’Hara. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1983. A useful short study. Concludes that O’Hara is not a major writer, but calls Appointment in Samarra his “most nearly perfect novel.”