Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 188
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,...
(The entire section contains 1306 words.)
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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.
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.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1118
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, his concupiscent liberties. In fact, before his beating the person who pays the highest price for their adulterous affair is Brenda herself, specifically after Arthur impregnates her and she is forced to induce a miscarriage by taking a painfully hot bath while drinking a large amount of gin. Arthur thinks, “She wants me to feel guilty about it, but I don’t feel bad at all.” After all, according to him, “It’s her fault for letting such a thing [as the pregnancy] happen....The stupid bloody woman.”
By blaming Brenda, and by including her in his grouping of women as “whores, all of them,” Arthur seems better able to prevent any feelings of responsibility or guilt from entering his own mind and heart. Although he does consent to be present in Brenda’s home during the evening of the hot bath, gin, and consequent abortion (Jack is working the night shift at the factory), the most he suffers is weariness and mild depression over the ordeal; then, after helping drunken Brenda into her bed and leaving the house, he walks to the Peach Tree, a local club, and is still uncertain whether the bath and gin would be successful in emptying her womb. At the tavern he encounters Winnie, Brenda’s sister, buys her a few drinks, learns that her husband is with the army and stationed in Germany, woos her into inviting him back to her apartment and there spends the night in bed with her. “Whether Brenda’s trouble had been resolved or not did not matter,” the narrator says, but what does matter to Arthur is his “sense of relief” at having encountered Winnie, the relief itself making him “unquenchable in his tenderness” to the younger woman. The evening of the depressing abortion thus ends with the beginning of his affair with Winnie: “Never had an evening begun so badly and ended so well, he reflected....” Yet Arthur’s affair with Winnie does not end his affair with Brenda; he carries on with both for several months until Bill returns from Germany, discovers he has been cuckolded, and—with information from Jack about Arthur’s whereabouts—accomplishes the punitive beating that ultimately ends both of Arthur’s affairs.
Although before his beating Arthur’s “weeks and weekends were divided between Brenda and Winnie,” he still finds the time occasionally to see Doreen Greatton, a nineteen-year-old factory worker who lives with her mother. Arthur’s several attempts to seduce Doreen are unsuccessful, however, as she wants a courtship; in the light of “the pleasure and danger of having two married women,” his interest in her is relatively minimal—until, that is, he comes to see that “he should have kept to the safe and rosy path with Doreen....” Before he can see the benefits of such a “path,” he must suffer a symbolic death and rebirth: the former occurring as a result of his beating, and the latter occurring on the day of Christmas, when he suddenly realities that “he had been living in a soulless vacuum since his flight.... He told himself he had been without life since then, that now he was awake once more, ready to tackle all obstacles....” This symbolic rebirth occurs at the end of the fourteenth chapter, and it should come as no surprise to the reader when the narrator asserts at the beginning of the fifteenth chapter that “Arthur became Doreen’s young man.” Indeed, by the end of this penultimate chapter, Arthur confesses to Doreen that he would like to live with her, and he promises that she will be “well off” with him because “I’ll look after you all right.” To a significant extent, then, Arthur seems to have outgrown and abandoned his libidinal, self-serving attitude toward life and others, and “he was good in his heart about it, easy and confident, making for better ground than he had ever trodden on before.”