Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 409
My Days of Anger, one of the five novels in James T. Farrell’s O’Neill-O’Flaherty series, chronicles the lives of two Chicago Irish-Catholic families with young Danny O’Neill as the central character. Published fourth but coming last in the chronology of Danny’s life, My Days of Anger is a Künstlerroman; that is, a novel of a young protagonist’s developing an identity as an artist. Set on Chicago’s South Side from 1924 to 1927, the novel opens with Danny working nights and attending the University of Chicago days while initially aspiring to become a lawyer. As the novel closes, Danny has rejected this goal, the middle-class values of his family, his Catholicism, and the prejudices of his neighborhood, leaving Chicago for New York to become a writer.
As he develops, Danny undergoes numerous emotional and intellectual changes. Having grown up in the O’Flaherty household with a doting uncle and grandmother because his immediate family is too poor to keep him, Danny wrestles with the guilt of having enjoyed more advantages than his numerous siblings and learns to appreciate the struggles of his parents. He sees beyond the business ethics of his Uncle Al, a traveling salesman and his surrogate father, who, though meaning well, is pretentious and shallow. At the university, reading philosophy along with much Romantic poetry, he finds that Catholicism fails to explain a world he views as brutal and unjust. In the name of gaining experience, he drinks and carouses with prostitutes but soon realizes his immaturity, escaping the dissipation that plagues many of his friends. Farrell treats much of Danny’s thought and behavior as the rebellion of an overly sensitive adolescent, but by the novel’s end, Danny matures into an intellectual worthy of respect. Whereas he initially denounces and ridicules his family and friends, he comes to understand their difficulties and vows to redeem their meager lives through his art.
Danny O’Neill is very much an autobiographical character whose experience parallels the young James T. Farrell’s. Danny’s immigrant grandmother, his working-class parents, his deluded uncle, his fellow university students, and the young toughs on the streets all contribute to re-creating the Irish-Catholic Chicago neighborhood where Farrell grew up and that provides the setting for most of his work. As fiction, My Days of Anger exemplifies the artist’s dilemma in an urban America where money and practicality are valued over sensitivity, imagination, and intellectual endeavor.
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