(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Three days after his last drinking binge, Don Birnam sits alone in the New York apartment he shares with his younger brother Wick. Wick has gone to meet their friend Helen at a concert after failing to persuade Don that he should join them. After a short time alone, Don becomes agitated and impulsively decides to drink again. Taking the money Wick has left for the maid, he goes to Sam’s bar. While looking in the mirror there, he conceives a short story called “In a Glass” based on his own sensitive youth and subsequent adult failures.

Don returns home and watches from hiding as Wick leaves for a long weekend in the country, a trip originally planned to help Don in his recovery. Again alone in the apartment, Don reflects on all the times he has broken his promises to the brother who is now supporting him. After another drink, he becomes elated and decides to go out. Borrowing money from a laundrywoman, he proceeds to a bar in Greenwich Village. He begins to drink and imagines himself more sophisticated than the other patrons; then, on a sudden whim, he steals a woman’s handbag. Just as he is congratulating himself on his performance as a thief, the bar’s doorman apprehends him and pushes him into the street. In acute embarrassment, he rushes home, where he drinks some more in search of oblivion.

Don awakes, not knowing if it is morning or early evening. He realizes that he has been off on another binge and that he will not be able to stop drinking until he is physically unable to get liquor. He reflects on his career as an alcoholic and remembers with disgust his pretensions of the previous night. He knows all too well that he is anything but a worldly sophisticate. Furthermore, he thinks, who would want to read the short story he now self-contemptuously dismisses as a tale of “a punk and a drunk”? He understands himself—he realizes his basic immaturity. He knows that drinking leads only to misery, yet he feels no hope that he can ever stop. Changes of scenery, trips abroad, psychiatry—nothing has helped; he always drinks again.

Don buys a bottle of liquor and returns home for some “safe” drinking. After indulging in a fantasy of himself as a great pianist, he grows restless and ventures out again. Eventually, he wanders back to Sam’s bar. Over drinks, he tells Gloria, the host, an involved lie that he is a rich man with a frigid wife. Gloria agrees to meet him after she gets off work, and he goes home to drink and wait. He begins to reminisce, eventually recalling his expulsion from a fraternity for suspected homosexuality....

(The entire section is 1058 words.)