Modernity in Literature
Studs Lonigan Paper
Studs is an interesting boy. Through a series of societal and peer pressured events, Studs Lonigan begins a downward spiral in the discovery of himself. In the book, Young Lonigan, by James Farrell, Studs starts growing up by going down in ambition and moral habits. At the end of summer and the book, we are left wondering what will happen to Studs Lonigan.
Studs smokes. He smokes from the time we meet him until the time we leave him. For context, the book opens and we are with Studs in his bathroom. He’s smoking and practicing sneers in the mirror. The fourteen year-old tough guy how-to of getting ready for 8th grade graduation. This is our first glimpse at Mr. Studs Lonigan is putting on a show.
We are in Studs head and hear how he says he doesn’t care if mom and dad find he is smoking. Studs is the boss of Studs. Then mom and dad come around and say hey Studs, open up – and Studs spends the remaining chapter waving the smoke out the window.
This boy’s perception on manhood is different from his good hardworking father’s. We learn that at an early stage. Evidence of such view is seen in the people Stud’s looks up to.
The first role model we get to met is a peer of Studs. It Weary. Studs secretly admires the guy but on the outside, enemies, competition. So let’s go to the graduation scene, except Studs and Weary have skipped out on that last part and we find them in the boys room, smoking. Weary talks some tough talk like oh yeah, I’m not going to high school. Studs follows suit, oh yeah, I’m not going either.
We had heard Studs talk about not going to high school before only briefly and sort of, maybe, he just didn’t know. The influence of the bad but cool peer opinion seemed to settle the matter for Studs. He liked the sound of it. I’m not going to high school. Sounded mean. Sounded tough. Studs Lonigan is boss, remember.
After graduation an important event happens. We are introduced to the spark of sensual feeling within these young junipers. They play a kissing game in the house of Studs & Family during the after party. We learn Studs has got this crush on a girl named Lucy. Lucy and Studs get to kiss a little and life is swell, but wait, Studs better quit it right now because big mean manly boss men don’t feel those kinds of feelings. Men like that aren’t sweet. They aren’t cute. They certainly are not romantic. But here, we witness Studs experience all of these feelings.
They are not ones he wishes to push away.
A smaller but important part was that Weary was at this party, kissing a girl he wanted more from, he became aggressive with her when kissing wasn’t enough for him. We cannot say the same for Studs Lonigan though, kisses and kissing alone was just fine for him.
Studs wants to fight. Who does he wish to fight- Weary. The big bad wolf that’s standing in his way to being toughest kid on the block. Yet we catch hesitation from Studs. He isn’t the guy that ‘s going to march right up and give Weary good shiner for nothing. Studs waits. He doesn’t wait long.
Our guy Studs gets the moral O.K. to beat up Weary the day Studs and his friend Honest Helen were playing a game of basketball at Helen’s house. Weary comes over to join the fun. He hurts Helen on purpse. Studs hits Weary.
(Honest Helen is a friend of Studs who isn’t afraid to be honest with him.)
So Studs and Weary fight. Weary puts up a good fight, but Studs comes out on top. Studs is respected around the neighborhood by the kids (and maybe a little feared), as the tough guy he dreamed up of being back in the first chapter. Studs gets what he wants; all is going well according to Studs.
We can’t forget Lucy, Stud’s girl-crush. Things end up going so well, that Studs gets a date with Lucy. (Studs has no interesting in Helen because she’s not Catholic, though, they would make a good team because of how honest friends they are.)
Meanwhile this strange and mystery thing called ‘sex’ has begun to float amongst the minds of the kids. Sex does not seem to be the main intention for Studs when he thinks of Lucy. They go on a walk. They sit in a tree. They kiss for hours. Studs even has some poetic thoughts. He favors this day more than the fight with Weary.
Studs wakes up the next day to find chalk drawings all over the neighborhood – Studs Loves Lucy. STUDS KISSING LUCY. This is traumatic for Studs. More-so for Studs as the Tough Guy act. He is so embarrassed he can’t even be seen. So he goes to the next neighborhood 58th St. – and joins that gang. He beats up a kid because, kid deserved it, plus this gang was tougher than the last so he needs to prove himself, and quick. The beginning of a pattern is seen. There are tougher guys to look up to.
As summer goes on Studs gets to chew tobacco (though before he said he never cared for it), continue smoking, beat up and steal from Jews, switch from verbal disagreement with parents to verbal agreement (apathy). And hang around some old men whose favorite pastimes include drinking, gambling, crude humor, & whorehouses. These are the people Studs looks up to, coupled with the 58th St. gang.
Yes, Studs is still fourteen years old. The summer of his lifetime is upon him.
There’s the added sexual pressure from the 58th street gang. Many of the guys have had sex. They talk about it. To studs, sex is the next accomplishment to achieve in Tough Guy World. Never mind anything else. Never mind Lucy, who he is still eyeing from a distance and who, still has a thing for him, despite all the ‘not so admirable’ habits young Lonigan picks up along the way.
The guys (his 58 St. gang) are like hey studs, there’s this girl, Iris…. You with us? And Studs is says, Yeah. So then each member of the gang has sex with Iris.
Studs feels bad about it afterward. In his heart, Studs is still a good kid. We are rooting for Studs to overcome both societal and peer pressure, but are unsure if he can.
He sure lost Lucy, and she’d be smart to look elsewhere. In fact he probably lost most of the friends he once had. The friends remain are scheming toward the next hurtful idea they have in mind. Studs will be right there with them, unless he chooses not to be.
Do see Studs enjoying the thrill of the rush- yes. Does he enjoy the bad habits in a genuine way? No, he teaches himself to like them. What he does enjoy is playing ball with Helen or hanging out with Lucy. That’s why there is hope for Studs. Hope for him to come up from this downward spiral.
He we either have to drop the act or it will consume him until his eventual death.
Farrell, James T., and Pete Hamill. James T. Farrell: Studs Lonigan. New York: Library of America, 2004. Print.