16 July 2006

In the previous two novels, we have seen Studs Lonigan go from a boyhood full of potential to a manhood wasted on booze. Now, in his final book, we see the end to which this leads. To make his moralizing more effective, however, Farrell needs to make Studs more representative of America that the drunken Irish stereotype he has drawn thus far. He does this by confronting three subjects which are experienced by all: death, love, and money.

The book opens with Studs returning to Chicago from a drinking buddy's funeral in Terre Haute, and it closes with him lying dead. It seems fairly obvious that all Americans will go through experiences like these--while we might not all have friends, we will all die.

On this opening trip back, though, we learn of Catherine--a new character. Catherine loves Studs. She, when he asks her, agrees to marry him; she gives her body to him, and is carrying his child when he dies. Of course, this relationship isn't always rosy, but how many are? The engagement is even broken for a while. But when they are together, they do typically American things, like go to the movies, the World's Fair, and even a dance marathon.

Yet Studs becomes a representative American not through something he does, like dying or falling in love, but through what happens to him: the Great Depression. Because of this, he suffers. His father goes bankrupt; he loses his job. He loses money on the market. He even tries to get a sleazy job selling sanitary drinking cups. He can't afford to get married. Life is hard, as it was for most people during the Depression.

While these experience don't change the fact that Studs has become a very limited character, they do make him into someone who can be identified with by more than just the Chicago Irish community. In this regard, Judgment Day is the best novel of the Studs Lonigan trilogy.


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