Never Come Morning by Nelson Algren

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The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Bruno Bicek, Algren’s tragic protagonist in Never Come Morning, stands alone, differentiated from the other members of his gang by his sensitivity and humanity. In an environment that places a premium on mere survival, Bruno’s “flaws” mark him as “soft.”

His “softness” results in Steffi’s rape and subsequent prostitution, for she cannot return to her Old World mother and values. Like Bruno, however, she retains her humanity and her capacity for love and forgiveness, but Algren has taken care not to present her as the idealized virgin: Lazy and selfish, she permits Bruno’s seduction because she senses that he is the best of the available males. Algren’s portrait of her, like his characterization of Bruno, is complex. In this adolescent love story, readers do not encounter the star-crossed lovers of West Side Story (1961); they find young people with potential whose growth is irremediably stunted by their environment. They have few choices, and the few they have do not involve escape.

The impossibility of Bruno’s escape is foreshadowed by the fate of Casey, who is a bit older but whose life closely parallels his. Casey, like Bruno, is a boxer, but he is a loser, a hanger-on, a tool of Bonifacy; his position is reflected in his appearance at the barber’s back door, where he is reduced to asking for “advances” which are really handouts.

While Casey is a foil to Bruno, Fireball and Tiger represent tests that the hero must pass to achieve even the illusion of victory. Fireball (whose name reflects his former baseball prowess) is a has-been at eighteen, a youth whose tall, lean frame is being consumed by tuberculosis. With courage born of having nothing to lose, he uses his knife, with its implicit threat of mutilation, to overcome Bruno. Tiger is the Old King, the father figure, the former champion whom Bruno has worshiped, but who must be defeated before Bruno can be his own man. When he defeats Tiger and takes Fireball’s knife, Bruno becomes a man; the victory in the ring is important only in terms of irony.

The older generation, unlike the younger one, clings to the Old World values of hard work and religious faith, and, as a result, survives rather than thrives in a New World where exploitation, brutality, and the “con” game seem necessary for success. Bruno’s mother, who is exploited in a small shop, cannot understand her son’s lack of concern about law and religion; Steffi’s mother ekes out a living in a poolroom, is apparently oblivious to her environment, and has values which make her raped daughter’s return impossible. Of the older generation, only Bonifacy adopts New World values, but only in what he considers, because of his paranoia, to be self-defense. Morally corrupt, he nevertheless pays lip service to Old World values while he projects his corruption onto his underlings.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Bruno “Lefty” Bicek

Bruno “Lefty” Bicek (BI -sehk), a seventeen-year-old hoodlum in a Polish neighborhood in Chicago. Proficient at baseball and boxing, Bruno is blond and athletically built, with a large body and long arms. He lusts for tobacco, women, food, and public triumph but is also haunted by guilt. He dreams of becoming a professional boxer, even as he steals a slot machine and leads his neighborhood gang, the Warriors, to reorganize as the “Baldheads.” Bruno’s intentions are often good: He repeatedly promises to himself that he will make up for injustices to his girlfriend, Steffi Rostenkowski. With his peers, however, Bruno lets the code of gang loyalty and his desire to conform prevent him from asserting himself when gang members follow him and Steffi to their alley hideaway and rape her. As Steffi is demoralized by gang rape, Bruno seethes inwardly until a Greek outsider attempts to get in line; with one kick of a metal-tipped shoe, Bruno breaks the Greek’s neck. Although he successfully escapes from the scene, Bruno is later picked up by the police and questioned about a shooting for which he...

(The entire section is 1,229 words.)