Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

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,...

(The entire section is 748 words.)