James T. Farrell, “Judgment Day” (1935): How to Sleep Through a Revolutionary Moment

Grim-faced men in working clothes and overalls with an interspersing of women in their ranks marched slowly along a high fence surrounding a factory in a mid-western town, watched by special deputies who stood at regularly-spaced intervals with clubs and truncheons ready. Above the geometrically patterned factory windows, two chimney’s smoked. (594)

He paused at South Shore Drive and looked across at the arched entrance-way to the club grounds, wondering again what should he do now. Carroll Dowson had just joined South Shore Country Club, he remembered, and was getting up in the world. Well, the day would come when Studs Lonigan could join a swell club like that if he wanted to. (739–740)


The final volume of James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan trilogy, Judgment Day, reads like a guidebook on how to squander a revolutionary movement. In the first two volumes of the series we see Studs Lonigan squander his intelligence and potential in a half-hearted resistance against the institutions that dominate his life. His rebellion is only passive and usually unacknowledged. Studs rejects the “American” values of hard work. He rejects Catholic sexuality and religious practices. He even rejects his community, disregarding friends and family for short-term psychological advantage. Yet, into his late 20s and early 30s, Studs is still capable of resting his identity on these very structures. This is him in response to yet another leftist trying to awaken his political imagination.

Studs laughed at the crazy bastard. A Bolshevik. He supposed the guy was a nigger lover, too. Well, let the Bolshevik get tough. They’d be taken care of, just the same as the shines were during the race riots of ’19. (709)

This is meant to be embarrassing to read, especially after we have been following Studs with no amount of concerned interest for seven hundred pages. He treats the post-World War I Chicago race riots in the same what he treated his childhood brawl with a classmate. He turns what was a vulgar and ugly affair, with no redeeming features, into a celebration that long out lives the event. When looking at the previous volume in the series, I tried to approach the dilemma of Studs’ resistance to institutional confinement along with his embrace of those very structures as his personal identity. Two things make all of this harder to watch. First, Studs is getting old quickly. A life of drinking, smoking, and chasing women has left him worn beyond his years. He is around 30 now and has nothing to show for his life. Second, Studs has been placed in a moment of historical transformation. The novel is set in 1932, during the election campaign that would bring Franklin Delano Roosevelt to office. Studs is surrounded by revolutionaries and revolutionary activity. More so than in the other words in the series, Farrell populates this book with news, trying to hit home that Studs is sleeping through a storm.


It is time to examine Farrell’s politics. He was from a union family; his father was a teamster in Chicago.  His writing career began in journalism, writing columns and book reviews for newspapers. In his mid-20s, while writing Young Lonigan he advocated racial integration at the University of Chicago dramatic association. After the Great Depression began, Farrell was writing articles for New Masses. His career is largely literary but he engages in political actions such as May Day marches and picketing publishers that fired leftists. By the time he was finishing the Studs Lonigan triology in 1935, Farrell was fully part of the leftist opposition in the United States. He became a follower of Leon Trotsky and was greatly affected by his murder, having earlier travelled to Mexico to support Trotsky in his legal difficulties there in 1937. During the Cold War, Farrell continued his vocal defenses of leftist writers and thinkers and also worked to support the growing United Auto Workers. In many ways, Farrell’s biography reads like a model example of Great Depression era American radicals. Knowing this makes it easier to read Studs Lonigan as a leftist critique of American working class provinciality and false consciousness.

Back to the tale. In Judgment Day, Farrell places Studs Lonigan in a revolutionary situation. Lonigan does everything he can to avoid facing the historical moment he was in. Instead he continued to shuffle through his life, which is becoming increasingly pathetic to watch. Some of his friends are in jail or dead, but this is not as tragic as Lonigan’s own living death. It also suggests the costs of his earlier recklessness. While we do not want to condemn every (or even most) efforts at pleasure seeking, Lonigan refused to ever examine critically the world he lived in, despite being given insight from many of the people in his life. The costs of this is he is impotent to do anything but accept the guidance of others.

Some of what Lonigan does in the first part of this novel include attend funerals and talk about the good old days. He had a steady girlfriend, Catherine, but he is rather indifferent to her. Lonigan realizes that she is a good hearted woman and would make a good wife, but he cannot help but think he is settling for less than he deserves because of her mediocre looks and figure. He cheats on her, they fight constantly, and the relationship goes nowhere despite a marriage proposal early in the story. He is constantly losing money in the stock market because he invests what little money he has on promises made by opportunities who (like President Hoover) promised the recovery was right around the corner. More than a game, it is one more burden on his already immobile existence. It is also evidence that Lonigan has no capacity to examine the world critically. He joins a secret Catholic brotherhood called the Order of Christopher. Of course, he fails to follow through on what membership in this group might provide to the now-middle-aged man.

Catherine properly diagnoses Studs’ problem during one of their fights. “Only you’re walking along here, so self-satisfied acting as if you were so pleased, with a head like a big balloon full of false pride, acting as if you thought yourself . . . indispensable.” (726) His response to this apt critique is the only strategy he has learned in almost 20 years on the streets. He tries to smash Catherine’s self-confidence. At the mid-point of Judgment Day Lonigan pays to sleep with a married woman who has lost her money gambling and feared to return to her husband empty handed. Yet, despite his betrayal, ridicule, and abuse of Catherine he is confident that a pleasant note preparing their reconciliation is waiting for him.

The second half of the novel really focuses on Studs rapid decline. After the argument with Catherine, he attempts to sleep with the gambler again but is humiliated and thrown out of her house. Studs, who rests much of his masculinity of a perception of his sexual prowess, is told “you don’t even know how to jazz.” (771) Failed, he returns to Catherine. After reuniting Studs rather violently has sex with her. As he apparently raped her and took her virginity, he feels instantly guilty about it and shows some humility before his friends refusing to gossip about it. Throughout their subsequent sexual relationship, Catherine insists on marrying soon. Studs knows that times are bad and he lost most of his savings in playing the stock market so I attempts to evade the commitment. The announcement that Catherine is pregnant forces his hand, but neither family understand why they must hurry to marry given the Depression. He looks for jobs and catches pneumonia and dies.

The political assertiveness of the first half of the novel falls away, for good reasons. Studs’ times for dreaming and making a name for himself ended with Catherine’s pregnancy. At that point, even if he had a political awakening (which he did not), he was forced to focus solely on the family. Responsibility got forced upon him is one way of saying it. Another way to say it is that Studs was forced into action. But is this not exactly the place the nation was at in the early 1930s? When writing this blog, I have rarely looked at what literary critics have been saying about these works, but I cannot help but see the Studs Lonigan trilogy as more than a description of working class life. Studs is a metaphor for America in the 1920s and 1930s. The Depression, like Catherine’s pregnancy, forced the nation into bold action. In 1935, Farrell has no way of knowing if the half measures of the New Deal would be enough. I suspect he would have found them limiting, which is why Lonigan has to die at the end.

In the second to last chapter, we see Studs’ father walking the street, bumping into a “Red parade.” Old man Lonigan has become increasingly fascist during the Depression, even suggesting the need for a Mussolini to help correct America’s economy with an emergency dictatorship. We are reminded at the end, through this parade, that many in the United States were not sleeping through the revolutionary moment. It also paints a sharp contrast to the street as it has been presented in the previous 900 pages. Instead of a place of rootless wandering, racial violence, and sexism, it becomes the space of re-creation and re-imagining. This takes place while Studs is dying (his father wonders if he is already dead).

Strange music filling the street, the shouts and cries of an approaching throng headed by an overcalled white man and a Negro carrying an American and a red flag, policeman stretched along the cubs in both directions, shabby people behind the line of bluecoats, a crowd constantly augmenting in front of the corner speakeasy saloon, children scampering and dodging through the group; all this befogged and confused Lonigan, and he puzzled with himself trying to figure what it was. . . The noise and music swelled in volume, and he told himself, as if in an argument with someone else, that with things as bad, why couldn’t the Reds let well enough alone. (934–935)


Union Square Rally, 1930s

The scene goes on for quite some time, juxtaposing the lively parade scenes with the failure of Old Man Lonigan to understand that the people he condemned throughout his life were doing the promethean imagining that he and his son could not.

What shocks him above all is their capacity for political pleasure (something he never had through a lifetime of support for the Democratic Party).

He seemed happy. That frail little woman in blue. They were happy. And they didn’t look like dangerous agitators, that is, except the eight-balls. All black boys were dangerous, and they couldn’t be trusted farther than their noses. But the white ones, they looked like men and women, with faces the same as other men and women. He could see that most of them were poor, and many of them, like that fellow in gray dragging his feet, were tired. He wondered how they could be Reds and anarchists, so dangerous and so perverted that they even made little children into atheists. He shook his head in bewilderment, and repeated to himself that these people were happy. (940)


Old Man Lonigan navigates the protests and starts drinking at a bar, spending the last moments of his son’s life angry and drunk.



Philip K. Dick, “Eye in the Sky” (1957)

Eye in the Sky is set almost entirely in the characters minds, but it is one of the most grounded of Dick’s works.  It also does not speak to me about late capitalism the way many of the other works by Dick that I have been reviewing.  Eye in the Sky functions as a strong polemic against the Cold War security culture that defined not only the politics of the 1950s but also manifest in everyday life through loyalty oaths and blacklisting.  At the same time, Philip K. Dick is making a case that ideology matters (in a sense accepting the Cold Warriors’ position on the threat of Marxism in the post-war world).  Through a voyage through four fascinating and playful worlds, Dick shows that the mental realm we live in shapes how we act and shaped the world we live in.


Eight people fall into a particle accelerator, or something.  This knocks them unconscious and causes massive injuries but also thrusts them into shared realities that manifest from the delusions of the accident victims.  They leave one only to enter another.  As one character questions: “Until we have telepathy and can get into people’s minds, we’re going to have to depend on this statistical stuff [to find out if someone is a communist].”  The accident creates this honest look into other people’s mind.  We think of telepathy as a simple snapshot of anther’s stream of consciousness.  As Dick shows in Eye in the Sky, people’s mental realms are often so different from our own, often relying on entirely different rules, telepathy could never be as simple as mind reading.  Every attempt would involve an entrance into another world.  This is an extremely pessimistic view, casting doubt on our ability to really communicate across minds.

The eight victims reminded me of a children’s picture book teaching young readers about the different types of people in the town.

Jack Hamilton – A technician at a government military contractor, a talented scientist.
Martha Hamilton – His wife, an alleged communist but in reality a harmless liberal.
Charley McFeyffe – A policeman who we first meet as an investigator into the actions of Martha Hamilton, yet he likes to pose as their friend.
Arthur Silvester – An old soldier
Joan Reiss – A young businesswoman
Bill Laws – An black tour guide and physics graduate student
Edith Pritchet – A mother
David Pritchet – Her son

The novel opens with McFeyffe’s investigation of Martha Hamilton as a possible communist.  She attended one to many lefty meetings and read too many communist leaflets.  For this Jack Hamilton is forced to either quit his wife or quit his job.  Later that day, the Hamiltons, along with McFeyffe, attend a demonstration and tour of a particle accelerator.  They fall in and are zapped into these alternative realities.

Delusion One: Second Babiism.  This is the invention of Arthur Silvester.  Second Babiism is a form of Islam that attracted Silvester during one of his visits to Chicago.  The world he “created” (this is a poor term, what is really going on is that his mental construct is imposed on all others) assumes that prayer works, that God is real, the sun orbits the earth, and that faith and points toward salvation are currency.  Hamilton’s company is transformed from a military contractor into a company investigating the technologies of theophonics (communication between man and God).  The character escape this delusion and instead of waking up, they enter another delusion.

Delusion Two: Neutered Puritianism.  This world is the construct of Edith Pritchet, who desires that anything unseeingly is removed.  This includes sex, prostitutes, certain animals, and illnesses.  Pritchet has complete control over what is excised from this world.  She also has the goal of expanding culture to the masses.  Hamilton’s company is now engaged in this effort.  “Our purpose is to turn the immense resources and talents of the electronics industry to the task of raising the cultural standards of the masses.  To bring art to the great body of mankind.”  In this world, Sigmund Freud argued that “in the healthy, uninhibited human, there is no sexual drive and no curiosity or interest in sexuality.  Contrary to traditional thought, sex is a wholly artificial preoccupation.”

Delusion Three: Paranoia.  Joan Reiss is responsible for this world.  She is mentally ill and suffers from paranoia and anxiety.  In this world, everything that happens is the product of an external conspiracy.  Although mentally ill, Reiss’ delusional construct is the closest to reality of the 1950s Cold War paranoia.

Delusion Four: Class War.  We assume at first that Martha Hamilton created this caricature of America as envisioned by radical Communists.  In fact, it was from the mind of McFeyffe, the policeman and Cold Warrior.  “The Communist idae of America — gangster cities, full of vice and crime. . . and the rural areas.  Indians, wild killings and lynchings.  Bandits, massacres, bloodshed.”

Race did play a role in all of these delusions.   Bill Laws’ role, diction, and characterization changed based on how the mind of each construct’s originator viewed black people.

The characters finally escape the delusions.  Hamilton attempts to prove that McFeffe is an implanted Communist agent but is unsuccessful since he lacks evidence (contrasted with the booklet produced on Martha Hamilton).  The Hamilton’s choose to leave and start their own business.

The exposure of McFeyffe and the innocence of Martha Hamilton, especially considering that McFeyffe’s leftism was a true threat and Hamilton’s closer to liberal curiosity, is enough to make this novel a significant polemic against the Cold War security culture.  As Hamliton says at the end: “I’m trying to say that a man can be all those things and still be a dangerous subversive.  And a woman can sign peace petitions and subscribe to In Fact, yet love the very dirt this country is made of.”

More troubling is Dick’s broader point.  Almost any ideology can be dangerous and we all have certain expectations, assumptions, and values that, if imposed on the rest of the world, would be positively horrifying.  Ideology matters because it shapes how we see others, how we interact in the world, and how we interpret commonplace happenings.  We did not get to see the world derived from the mind of born again Christians, free market capitalists, fascists, or new age hippies.  Sadly Dick’s novels are always too short.  But we know enough to assume that they would be no less terrible for those who did not share those assumptions.