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Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe tells the story of Arthur Seaton, a young British man who spends his days doing repetitive work in a bicycle factory in Nottingham and dreaming about escaping the monotony of his life. He escapes on weekends, when he drinks, stirs up trouble, and has passionate sex with women, including two sisters, both of whom are married. Brenda, one of the women, is the wife of Arthur’s friend, and he nearly catches them several times, but they manage to escape discovery. Brenda soon becomes pregnant with Arthur’s child, however, and after a lot of heartache and drama she self-induces an abortion with hot water and gin.

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Despite the severity of this event, however, Arthur continues his pattern of self-indulgence until he is severely beaten by the husband of Winnie, Brenda’s sister. After this, Arthur is feeling more somber and somewhat less rebellious, though these feelings seem to be temporary. He agrees to marry Doreen, a young single woman he has been seeing, but he continues to feel restless, unsettled, and unhappy with the tedium of his working-class life.

Summary

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In this story’s opening scene, Arthur Seaton is described as having immersed himself in “the best and bingiest glad-time of the week,” Saturday night. One of “the fifty-two holidays . . . of the year,” this night is noteworthy in Arthur’s life only because he has consumed eleven pints of beer and seven small gins in a drinking contest with a sailor at the White Horse Club. Although he wins the contest, he ends his binge by falling down a flight of stairs in the club and lying unconscious at the bottom until he is awakened by Brenda, who is his lover and the wife of one of his coworkers at the bicycle factory. He accompanies her to her home (her husband, Jack, is out of town until Sunday), where he spends the night in bed with her. They are awakened in the morning by one of Brenda’s two children, who jumps up onto the bed to play with “Uncle Arthur.” Although Arthur experiences brief moments of regret over cuckolding Jack (“It’s a rotten trick, he argued to himself, to play on your mate”), such moments are easily subsumed by Arthur’s amoral view of life as a “jungle,” wherein self-interest counts most—especially during his weekend “holidays,” which, although brief, are hedges against “Black Mondays” and the “treadmill” of his factory work.

The novel’s first chapter may be seen as illustrative of the entire novel’s organization, insofar as the chapter begins during a Saturday night and ends the following Sunday morning. The novel itself is divided into two parts, “Saturday Night” and “Sunday Morning,” the former comprising the first twelve chapters and the latter the last four. Part 1 is a detailed account of—besides Arthur’s riotous “holidays”—the nature of his monotonous work at the bicycle factory and his adulterous affairs with Brenda and her younger sister Winnie. As a result of these affairs, Arthur is attacked and beaten in the twelfth chapter by Winnie’s husband, Bill, and one of his friends; thus, part 1 ends with Arthur’s symbolic death as he “slipped down in a dead faint, feeling the world pressing its enormous booted foot onto his head....”

The physical beating Arthur endures is a crucial turning point in his approach to life, and many readers might justifiably view this beating as proof that, contrary to Arthur’s amoral mode of being, in his world there does exist a strong belief in and a distinction between right and wrong. Brenda herself says to Arthur at one point, “You never know the difference between right and wrong,” but he claims it “don’t pay” to know the difference—that is, to know the difference and live according to that knowledge would cost him, among other things,...

(The entire section contains 1369 words.)

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