Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Division Street

Division Street. Violent, crime-ridden neighborhood of Chicago that provides the novel’s primary setting. There, drugs, alcohol, gambling, and theft are a way of life. Algren’s protagonist, Francis Majcinek—nicknamed Frankie Machine—works as a card dealer in an illicit upstairs gambling den at the Club Safari and is known as the “man with the golden arm” because of his skill. Algren modeled the neighborhood on Chicago’s real Wabansia Street, where he briefly lived.

Club Safari

Club Safari. Sleazy Division Street nightclub in which Frankie deals cards in illegal games. There Nifty Louie also gives community junkies their fixes, adjusting dosages to ensure that addicts keep returning, and paying, for ever-stronger and more expensive hits. Frankie himself also gets his fixes from Louie and needs them to deal cards with a steady hand. As the source of both his employment and his ever-strengthening drug habit, the club entraps Frankie in a way of life that he cannot escape.

Division Arms Hotel

Division Arms Hotel. Frankie’s Chicago residence, in which he is initially trapped with his psychosomatically crippled wife, Sophie, who also trapped him into marriage by faking a pregnancy. She has also faked her disability, which she attributes to an accident caused by Frankie. Sophie uses Frankie’s guilt to draw “the knot so fiercely that she felt he could never be...

(The entire section is 597 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Algren's most abiding technique is simply that of classic realistic fiction — the graphic depiction of details of slum life, drug deals,...

(The entire section is 362 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In this novel of Chicago street life, the Midwestern city becomes a metaphor for American experience, epitomizing a system which requires one...

(The entire section is 657 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Algren falls without a doubt into the camp of traditional literary realism, along with Theodore Dreiser and Stephen Crane, but his most...

(The entire section is 192 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Man with the Golden Arm was a sensational movie hit in 1950, rendered even more sensational in that it initially was denied clearance by...

(The entire section is 92 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Beauvoir, Simone de. America Day by Day. Translated by Patrick Dudley [pseud.]. London: Duckworth, 1952. This book, which displeased Algren, contains considerable detail about the genesis of The Man with the Golden Arm, which Algren had nearly completed when he went on an extended trip with de Beauvoir to New Orleans, Mexico, and Guatemala.

Cox, Martha Heasley, and Wayne Chatterton. Nelson Algren. Boston: Twayne, 1975. Material from Algren’s letters to and interviews with the authors, who did exhaustive research. Covers Algren’s career only to 1970. Accurate, well written, and thorough.

Donohue, H. E. F. Conversations with Nelson Algren. New York: Hill & Wang, 1964. Extensive interviews from 1962 and 1963 provide detailed information about Algren’s background, childhood, and early years. Valuable information about Algren’s wanderings after his graduation from the University of Illinois in 1931.

Drew, Bettina. Nelson Algren. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1989. Detailed, authoritative critical biography of Algren, covering his life up to his death in 1981. Much of the book is based on the extensive collection of Algren papers at the Ohio State University, to which Drew had full access.

Giles, James. “The Harsh Compassion of Nelson Algren.” Introduction to The Man with the Golden Arm, by Nelson Algren. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows Press, 1990. Provides valuable insights into the pervasive comic element in Algren’s writing.