James Thomas Farrell was born on February 27, 1904, in Chicago, where he lived until 1931, except for a short sojourn in New York City during the 1920’s. The son of a family of Irish teamsters and domestics, he was the product of a curious dual lifestyle in his youth. One of fifteen children, Farrell was taken, when he was three years old, to live with his maternal grandparents as the result of his own family’s impoverished condition. His grandparents, John and Julia Daly, were of the same poor, hardworking stock as his father and mother, but they were somewhat more financially stable and lived a different, more affluent life. The difference in these two families was important in Farrell’s development.
Living with the Dalys, Farrell found himself in a neighborhood of modern brick buildings that were a sharp contrast to the poor, wooden-shack neighborhood where his parents lived with the rest of their children. The personal confusion and divisions of loyalties caused by this unusual arrangement were only a part of Farrell’s childhood problems. Living in one household and coming from another made Farrell the center of many family tensions and involved him in most of the family’s disagreements.
Farrell entered Corpus Christi Parochial Grammar School in 1911, and through the course of his education was a loner and a dreamer. He became an excellent athlete, taking seven letters in sports at St. Cyril High School. He attended St. Cyril after giving up early plans to attend a seminary to become a priest. He excelled in his studies and was active on the St. Cyril Oriflamme, the school’s monthly magazine, in addition to being an active member of the high school fraternity, Alpha Eta Beta. He was desperately in need of acceptance, but his classmates sensed that he was different, and his social incapacity was another influence on his later life.
After high school, Farrell went to work full time for the Amalgamated Express Company, where he had worked summers while in school. After nearly two years with the express company, Farrell...
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