Never Come Morning by Nelson Algren

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Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Never Come Morning, like all of Algren’s novels, is a study of doom working itself out. Bruno “Lefty” Bicek is a young Polish American imprisoned in the Polish slums of Chicago, so oppressively isolated that the outside filters through only in films and tabloids. These promise a glorified version of success, but the American Dream is closer to nightmare in this world of police lineups, gangs, petty crime, and brothels. Here everyone is either the hunter or the hunted, who have nothing to lose but are too worried about being cheated of what they are owed to trust anyone else.

Like the rest, Bruno, hungering for boxing glory, scorns the Old World values of hard work and religious faith, but he is not strong enough to live by the New World’s capitalistic code of violence and deception. Bruno thinks of himself as a wolf, but he is a dreamer instead of a schemer; though sensitive and humane, he is too crippled by conscience to protect himself and too insecure to protect others. Despite his boxing prowess, he cannot stand up to his more brutal inferiors, either the knife-wielding Fireball Kodadek or the blackmailing Bonifacy “the barber” Konstantine, who wants to control his boxing career.

In a world where everything is a cheat, love seems as false as every other promise, but to destroy love in Algren’s novels is to destroy oneself. This is what happens when Bruno, asserting himself as a gang leader, seduces and betrays Steffi Rostenkowski. Steffi, born with similarly limited choices, gives in to Bruno because he seems the best she can expect. Then Bruno, unsure of himself and afraid of Kodadek’s knife, lets the rest of the gang have their way with Steffi. After this, Bruno’s fate is sealed. Stubbornly proud, he channels his shame into rage, murdering a Greek outsider trying to join in the rape.

Knowing that there can be no forgiveness for killing Steffi “in his heart,” he is ready to accept any punishment and goes to jail for a crime he did not commit. Still in search of forgiveness, he returns and gets a job at Mama Tomek’s brothel where Steffi, now Bonifacy’s mistress, works. Hoping to free Steffi and himself, Bruno establishes his independence by arranging his own boxing match and proves his manhood by beating up Bonifacy’s henchmen. All escape is illusory, however; Bruno wins in the boxing ring, but only for Bonifacy to denounce him to the police for the Greek’s murder.

Never Come Morning is a stylistic improvement over Somebody in Boots, with complex shifts in tone and pacing, subtler characters, and well-developed scenes. The brothel scenes, in particular, are praised for their authenticity and compassionate understanding, conveying simultaneously the comic and the threatening. Critics differ about this and other digressions in the novel, however, which weaken the story’s tension to dwell on capitalism’s oppressive exploitation. To heighten the sense of futility and hopelessness, Algren uses images of imprisonment and rain. Equally bitter are the song lyrics whose cheerfulness is merely ironic in a dark world where people are compared to mutilated flies and decapitated dolls. In many parts, the story often pushed to the side, Never Come Morning reads like a mood poem on the imminence of violence and death.

Summary

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Nelson Algren’s Never Come Morning is rooted in Chicago, particularly in its Polish slums, and concerns the fate of Bruno (Lefty) Bicek, a seventeen-year-old with ambitions of becoming either a professional baseball player or a professional boxer. The novel begins, however, with a boxing match which is lost by Casey Benkowski, who, as a slightly older version of Bruno, foreshadows Bruno’s “loss” after a boxing victory at the end of the novel. Through the chapter headings in book 1 of the novel, “The Trouble with Casey” is tied directly to “The Trouble with Bicek,” and the reader learns the fate of ambitious young men.

Under the tutelage of Casey and the “sponsorship” of Bonifacy...

(The entire section is 1,140 words.)