Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In Algren’s Chicago, the characters are shaped by their environment, from which there is no real escape, yet they dream the American Dream and aspire to success. Bruno’s failure is foreshadowed by Casey’s, and Steffi can no more escape from the brothel than she can from the Baldheads. Like Chickadee, Helen, and Tookie, the other prostitutes at Mama Tomek’s brothel, Steffi is one of the “hunted” who “also hope” (Algren’s chapter title for his brothel digression is “The Hunted Also Hope”). The hunters are the “heat” and the men who want, in Algren’s words, “to get their money’s worth.” One symbol for the woman as prey is the fly without wings in Steffi’s room: After she is “seduced,” Bruno crushes the fly, with which the inarticulate Steffi identifies. Later, when she and Bruno are at an amusement park, he uses his baseball prowess to win a Kewpie doll, which he subsequently “decapitates” as if it were a child. The doll may represent an illusory victory, a “fake,” as Bruno calls it, like other things at the amusement park and in life. It may also, because it is compared to a child, represent what happens to children in Algren’s Chicago, or, and this seems more probable, it may also represent Steffi, won by Bruno and then, almost unthinkingly, destroyed by him.

Nevertheless, both Bruno and Steffi have their dreams. Bruno becomes the “modern Kitchel” (a former Polish-American boxing champion) in his dream...

(The entire section is 582 words.)