Never Come Morning by Nelson Algren

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Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Never Come Morning, Algren’s second novel, follows Somebody in Boots (1935), a “Depression” novel which it resembles in its economic determinism, its protrait of the lower classes, and its criticism of the American Dream. It is the novel which precedes The Man With the Golden Arm (1949), which won for Algren a National Book Award. Part of Never Come Morning, the second book in the novel, first appeared as “A Bottle of Milk for Mother,” a short story which was included in the annual O. Henry collection of outstanding short stories in 1941.

Algren’s novel, like James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan (1934), with which it is often compared, is rooted in the ghettos of Chicago and is best described as a city novel which does not allow the reader or its characters a glimpse of the world outside the city. As a result, Algren uses Chicago as a microcosm of the United States and even of the world as he sees it: as madhouse, prison, or brothel with their images of insanity, entrapment, and prostitution in its broadest sense.

In his emphasis on the interplay between environment and youth, Algren resembles not only Farrell but also Richard Wright and James Baldwin, whose characters’ tormented souls and physically afflicted bodies provide an indictment of the society in which they exist. Bruno is guilty of betrayal and exploitation, but his moral failure is linked inextricably to the code of his gang, which is but an exaggeration of the capitalistic code that fosters competition and callousness and that rewards only the victors. Algren offers his readers few victors because the rewards and successes are, as they are in Bruno’s case, illusory and transitory.

Algren’s subject, setting, and characters are squarely within the naturalistic school of fiction which originated at the turn of the century and which includes among its practitioners such writers as Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, and Ernest Hemingway (who praised Algren’s work). In style, however, Algren is much more in the realistic school with its so-called slice-of-life emphasis on the sordid details in the lives of the lower classes. While the boxing...

(The entire section is 552 words.)