Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 748

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Birnam’s apartment

Birnam’s apartment. Home of Don Birnam, at 311 East Fifty-fifth Street in Manhattan, where the novel begins and where Don spends a long weekend on a drinking binge. He lives with his brother, who pays the rent, but, tellingly, it is Don who sleeps in the one bedroom, while his brother sleeps on the living-room couch. The apartment is in midtown Manhattan but has a small garden, an indication of the middle-class comfort Don enjoys despite his unemployment. The apartment is both his refuge and his prison. It is a prison of boredom and frustration when he is sober and faces the empty hours to be filled; it is a refuge when, after it is too late to drink in bars, he returns home with a bottle, locks the door, and allows the phone to ring unanswered.


Bars. Once free of his brother’s company, Don’s first destination is his neighborhood bar, Sam’s, dark and cheap and quiet; here he is known and enjoys a kind of friendship with Sam the bartender and the barmaid Gloria. He has less pleasant experiences in other bars, notably Jack’s, a former speakeasy in Greenwich Village, where he attempts to steal a woman’s purse as a drunken prank and is caught and humiliated. When drinking in public, he imagines himself aloof, superior, apart from the crowd. He is apt to fictionalize his life, as he does to Gloria, inventing an imaginary unhappy marriage. Although he drinks heavily in bars, he does his most serious and most dangerous drinking when he is alone at home.


*Manhattan. Borough of New York City in which Don lives. In part 3 of the novel, Don Birnam, moneyless, hung over, and in desperate need of a drink, carries his typewriter sixty-five city blocks up Manhattan, to an unfamiliar neighborhood on 120th Street, where two Jewish men he meets inform him that all pawnshops are closed in honor of Yom Kippur. “Don Birnam’s Rhine-Journey,” he calls it sarcastically, and indeed his journey has an epic quality, despite its absurdity and pointlessness. The description of Manhattan in this section is vivid and surreal, with passages that read almost like a catalog of commercial life, with milk bars, orange-juice stands, weighing machines, linoleum and bedding, cut-rates, remnants, watch repairers, barber poles, and so on. Fixated on his goal, Don walks through this urban jumble in a state of detachment, never a part of the life he observes, not even sure that the journey itself is not another dream or a story he might tell someday.


Hospital. City hospital in whose alcoholic ward Don lands after falling downstairs in his apartment building. There he observes the other patients, ranging from derelicts to a successful advertising man, in various states of derangement. There, also, he himself is observed by doctors on their rounds, who discuss him and the other patients casually and impersonally. Don recognizes his degradation as he is treated like an inanimate object, yet he finds a freedom in his anonymity at the hospital, in being merely another nameless alcoholic.


University. Unnamed university from which Don withdrew or was expelled fifteen years earlier, in an early failure that continues to haunt him. That failure is emblematic of his life’s pattern: early promise followed by some fatal error. Several references are made to this incident, in which Don was asked to leave his fraternity because of a suspected homosexual crush on an upperclassman; however, the university appears only in a long dream sequence in part 4. Don dreams of himself in a large auditorium set up with gymnasium equipment and packed with young men, listening to a lecture, then finds himself running across the campus, past familiar buildings, at the center of a lynch mob of angry students searching for him. The dream sequence shows the significance the university incident still has for him. More than fifteen years later, he still avoids meeting anyone who might have known him at the university. Don’s world has become a kind of minefield, filled with places and people to be avoided: a bar from which he was once thrown out, cab drivers who witness his shame, the delicatessen owner on Fifty-sixth Street from whom he borrowed and never repaid ten dollars. Don is really at home nowhere except in his own inner world of liquor-inspired fantasy, and the novel’s ending suggests that it is to this world he will always return.


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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 280

Alcoholics Anonymous. 1st ed. New York: Works, 1939. This landmark text examines alcoholism from the layperson’s perspective; Jackson cited it later as a primary source for the view of alcoholic progression in The Lost Weekend. Basically a spiritual guide for the recovering alcoholic, many first-person accounts in the story section parallel Don Birnam’s sordid adventures and downward spiral.

Crowley, John W. The White Logic: Alcoholism and Gender in American Modernist Fiction. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994. Excellent discussion of drinking in Amer-ican fiction, with historical background and literary antecedents to the modern age. A heavily annotated chapter on The Lost Weekend includes biographical information on Jackson and puts the novel in perspective as a postscript to the novels of the 1920’s and 1930’s featuring the “heroic drunk.”

Gilmore, Thomas B. Equivocal Spirits: Alcoholism and Drinking in Twentieth Century Literature. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987. Carries the discussion of alcoholism in literature to the postmodern 1960’s and 1970’s. The Lost Weekend is largely ignored, but Gilmore discusses Jackson and Don Birnam as a backdrop to praise of Malcolm Lowry’s “more compelling and complex” alcoholic hero in Under the Volcano.

Spectorsky, A. C. Review of The Lost Weekend, by Charles Reginald Jackson. Book Week, January 30, 1944, 4. In this contemporary analysis, Spectorsky discusses the unique and “spectacular” writing techniques employed by Jackson. Though he admits the book is shocking, it is never so for shock value alone; rather Jackson aims at “accuracy and the complete truth.”

Wilson, Edmund. Review of The Lost Weekend. The New Yorker 19 (February 5, 1944): 78. Another contemporary review that generally praises the novel, but Wilson ultimately finds the story a disappointment because of its lack of dramatic climax.


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