A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
You know, I shan’t ever kill myself. Trust me. I’ll stay alive half-barmy till I’m a hundred and five, and then go out screaming blue murder because I want to stay where I am.
“On a Saturday Afternoon” is a weary look at death and the life of unrelenting struggles that leads there. It will make you crack a smile or two though, I swear.
Our narrator is a teenager in a rough, working class neighborhood in the north of England. He tells us about his family and their “black moods,” his father’s violent temper, and his own brooding disposition. The real drama of the story is in an anecdote from his youth. At ten years old he witnessed a neighbor’s suicide attempt. He watched the neighbor tie himself a noose and string himself up. Then, when asked, calmly helped.
The scene is uncomfortably funny and told with some bravado, as if the narrator is a little proud of his actions. Yet, Alan Sillitoe’s beautiful use of language and dialect makes it clear that there are far deeper emotions under the surface. In the end, we sense that the narrator’s “black moods” are just the kind of fight it takes to get through life without despair or suicide.
Review by Matthew