16 July 2006

Our first image of Studs Lonigan is of him sneaking a smoke in the bathroom before going to his middle-school graduation. The first impression is one of a little reprobate and not much is done to change that, making redeeming qualities, much less endearing ones, hard to find. Still, Studs does have moments that made me believe something more was possible.

The most obvious of these is his afternoon in the park with Lucy Scanlin. As they sit in the tree, whistling, I can picture a future for them. It has them going to high school as sweethearts, getting married, and assuming Father Lonigan's successful painting business. They go on.

Of course, that doesn't happen--but at that moment, it was possible.

There was also a football game. Afterwards, Studs imagined going on to play in high school, then at college, and maybe even professionally. At the time, that was one possible outcome for his story.

But this was all before he dropped out of school, which neatly trimmed his chances. Still, even after that foolish decision, one more spot of hope shown for Studs.

That opportunity was the family business, which Studs joined upon retiring from formal education. His plan, and his father's, was for him to learn the trade from the paintbrush end, and take over the business when his father wanted out. Since the business had made enough for investments in stock and real estate, this seemed like a good chance for Studs to have a future.

These three incidents showcase good points in Studs' character. We see tenderness, talent, and a willingness to work. If not distracted from developing these qualities, Studs could have made something more of his life. It is not necessarily fair, however, to blame this unfulfilled potential on the environment in which Studs was raised.

Admittedly, the environment in which Studs grew up was not ideal. But both his sisters managed to go to high school; they both managed to sustain significant relationships; and they both managed moving out of their father's house. Studs never really did any of those things. Same environment, different results.

For Studs to have achieved his potential, he would have needed a boarding-school environment: an environment with fast discipline and no opportunities for temptation. While such an environment would be wonderful for young Lonigan, it is not one into which I could reasonably imagine him being placed. And so, I fear, he is doomed, the victim of his own weaknesses.


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