The Charlotte News



Realism Called Immoral


It is amusing how some books acquire a reputation as "immoral."

Lately, I have been reading James T. Farrell's Studs Lonigan trilogy--"Young Lonigan." "The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan," and "Judgment Day."

These books have been about as roundly denounced by the self-appointed custodians of the public morals as any which have appeared in our time, save maybe those of Erskine Caldwell and John Steinbeck. I believe they have the honor of being banned in Boston, a city in which most of the good books of the last three hundred years are also banned.

The reason for all this is, of course, the same which gets Caldwell and Steinbeck denounced and banned--that Farrell reports certain human antics in somewhat different terms from those which your Aunt Mathida used at the Ladies Aid along back when you were a kid in the early 1900's. And that he reports the speech of his somewhat impolite characters in their native idom.

In fact, however, Farrell's trilogy is, as John Chamberlain points out in his introduction to the Modern Library Giant edition, something most remarkably like a moral tract on its account.


If I had a son whom I wanted to shoo away from alcohol and the sins of the flesh, I think handing him this huge book would be more effective than taking him to 4,832 assorted sermons and offering him all the prohibition and purity tracts ever written by all the reformers of the earth.

There is only one thing wrong with it for the purpose. It might frighten him into a straight-jacket on its own account or bring him down with a complete case of agoraphobia, under the conviction that the only safe course was to keep himself locked in his room and avoid contact with the human race as he would the Devil.

It is the story of a group of Irish boys, of fairly well off families, in the period from 1917 to 1934. All of them grow up under the influence of the ideology of the war and the Prohibition Twenties. All of them come from homes, pious and "moral enough," but sadly afflicted with a lack of comprehension of any of the genuinely spiritual values of the race. All of them want to be thought tough and "fast," and nearly all take to drink and the shabby amours available to them. And the whole pack of them come to one horrid end or another. Some of them rot with venereal diseases and die. Liquor blinds some, kills others--including Lonigan himself--after destroying all his dreams and hopes.

If these tales are immoral then so is the Holy Bible, which is dedicated to the same thing--that the wages of sin is death--and which on occasion itself uses language somewhat different from that of Aunt Mathilda.

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