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Young Lonigan Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Young Lonigan: A Boyhood in Chicago Streets, the first volume of the Studs Lonigan trilogy, concerns Studs’s development from his graduation from St. Patrick’s Grammar School to the end of the year he was supposed to attend Loyola High School. Farrell is unsparing in his criticism of the platitudes mouthed by the Catholic priests (the influence of Irish novelist James Joyce is particularly evident in Father Gilhooley’s graduation address) and repeated by parents who bask in “burgher comfort” as they naïvely contemplate their children’s glowing futures. (In reality, Frank “Weary” Reilley becomes a sadistic rapist rather than a lawyer, and William “Studs” Lonigan hardly fulfills his mother’s ambition to have him become a priest.)

Farrell is primarily concerned with Studs’s struggle to create and maintain an identity, even if the tough-guy image he constructs is at odds with the “real” Studs. Sections 1 and 2 begin with Studs before a mirror contemplating his “image.” Studs is relieved when he looks “like Studs Lonigan was supposed to look,” the way he must appear to win peer acceptance. Here, as elsewhere, the ties between Studs and Farrell are quite evident. Although he later assures himself, “He was STUDS LONIGAN,” he does have lingering doubts about his true self: “He wished he was somebody else.” For his peers, Studs is, despite being rather small, a tough guy whose reputation depends on his successful fights with Weary Reilley and Red Kelley.

Studs fears that he is a misfit, someone with a split personality, someone who has a “mushy,” “queer,” “soft” side that he must repress. This romantic, poetic (if poetry were not beyond the relatively inarticulate Studs) side is associated with “angelic” Lucy Scanlon, the epitome of the “purer” Catholic girls, the “higher creatures.” Farrell writes, “But the tough outside part of Studs told the tender inside part of him that nobody really knew, that he had better forget all that bull.” When he and Lucy go to the park, which Farrell describes in terms of escape, of flight from self, Studs allows his tender side the ascendancy, but this idyllic interlude is followed by Studs, the victim of peer pressure, coarsely rejecting Lucy. At the end of the novel, Studs unconsciously mourns the lost Lucy, while his father, whom Studs is beginning to resemble, procrastinates again about taking his wife for a night out—thus, Farrell prepares his readers for the further adventures of Studs Lonigan.

Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Branch, Edgar M. James T. Farrell . Minneapolis:...

(The entire section is 601 words.)