Themes and Meanings

“Saturday Night” repeats many of Farrell’s central concerns and subjects. His fictional world, the cosmology it describes, echoes, in many ways, the teaching that was instilled in him as a boy growing up in a Roman Catholic family and attending parochial schools on the South Side of Chicago in the early twentieth century. There is a sense of predestination and original sin with which all his characters come equipped, though Farrell’s own attitude seems to be one of alternating cynicism toward and respectful anger at this worldview.

Dopey does not elicit much sympathy in Farrell’s depiction; his death, though, is a consequence of his closest friendship, albeit a friendship of convenience and exploitation on Dopey’s part. Phil is trapped in his own unrequited longings and sexual inexperience and ambivalence, the perpetual boyishness visited on most of Farrell’s male characters, and he becomes the agent of destruction. Farrell has retained a good bit of the Catholic puritanism of his youth. Phil’s sexual initiation is accomplished only at dire cost. Both society and Farrell disapprove of the boys’ behavior.

Farrell reveals his own ambivalence as a left-wing social critic in “Saturday Night.” The most amusing lines are given to Aunt Anna, a conservative scold, and to the habitue of the Sour Apple, Wolcroft, a self-proclaimed poet. In addition, Danny O’Neill, Farrell’s closest counterpart in the O’Neill pentalogy of novels, is spoken of at Kennedy’s apartment as a “cracked socialist” who “was trying to write books.” The terrible fate of the young friends is presented not in the language of Marxist determinism (these young men all being sacrifices to alienated labor and the inexorable march of capitalism) but according to Farrell’s own personal determinism, which he is exercising over the blockheads of his youth who did not appreciate the special young man whom they had in their midst. The Sour Apple, indeed: “Saturday Night” could be described as a mixture of sour grapes and bad apples.