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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

Street of No Return

cover image By: Goodis, David (male)
Publisher: Fawcett Publications, Inc. (Gold Medal Books 428)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 259: PS3513 .O499 S78 1954
Contributor: D. Schmid

General

Era: 1950s Author as on Cover: David Goodis Geographic Locale: possibly Philadelphia, PA Date of Publication: 1954  |  Original Date: 1954 Setting: urban; the slums and skid row area of a large city. We also see the Puerto Rican ghetto in this city. Motives: police corruption, alcoholism

Plot Summary

Whitey, whose real name is Eugene Lindell, is an alcoholic. In his previous life, Whitey was a successful singer, but then he became involved with a girl named Celia, who was dating Sharkey, the leader of a criminal gang. When Whitey refused to stop seeing Celia, Sharkey had him nearly beaten to death by fellow gang members Chop and Bertha, thus ruining his singing career and precipitating his decline into alcoholism. Whitey has learned to enjoy his decline and feel comfortable with it, but this all changes when he sees Chop one night, walking down the other side of the street. Whitey is now faced with a choice: should he stay where he is, amid the security of the bottle and his fellow lushes, or should he follow Chop and risk not only further beatings but also have to reopen the psychic wounds of the past? Whitey follows Chop, and thus both relives his painful past and becomes embroiled in a complicated scheme of police corruption and simmering racial tension. At the end of it all, the bruised and battered Whitey has seen Celia again but that is all -- he does not even get to speak with her. Whitey finishes the book in the same place he began -- sitting in a doorway with his friends, drinking. He is none the wiser for his decision to follow Chop, but the reader is meant to admire Whitey's indomitability, no matter how foolish it seems.


Major Characters

Whitey aka Eugene Lindell, adult male, middle-class, then a decline into alcoholism; singer, then bum

Sharkey adult male, working class, criminal and gang leader, working with a corrupt cop in an attempt to take control of the city's racketeering

Chop adult male, working class, criminal

Bertha adult female, working class, criminal

Celia adult female, working class, criminal

Taggert adult male, corrupt cop working with Sharkey

Pertnoy adult male, police captain

Jones Jarvis adult male, African-American whose house Whitey takes refuge in when he is hunted down for a murder he didn't commit. It is in Jarvis's house that Whitey tells the story of his past.

Chavez adult male, Puerto Rican, befriended by Whitey

Bones adult male, wino friend of Whitey's

Philips adult male, wino friend of Whitey's



Level of Violence

violence is frequent and bloody and takes a variety of forms. Typically for Goodis, violent people generally don't use guns; they prefer blunt instruments, knives and/or their fists. The most graphic descriptions of violence come when Goodis details Whitey's beating at the hands of Chop and Bertha, who use their fists and a blackjack to devastating effect. The violence is described in gory detail, and although the reader is given to understand that Chop and Bertha are violent because it is their occupation, it is clear that they also enjoy it. The book's events take place against a background of race riots between whites and Puerto Ricans, riots that are being manipulated by Sharkey and Taggert, to demonstrate that the current police captain cannot control the city. The police are also violent, dealing out frequent beatings to suspects. In short, violence is practically universal in this book. There is no particular attitude expressed toward this fact; violence just is.


Sexuality

Like other Goodis villains, Sharkey is impotent. This makes him hypersensitive about the issue of sex and makes him especially punitive towards Whitey's love for Celia. That love, however, is not particularly physical. Whitey seems to worship Celia, rather than lusting after her. The reader is given to understand that love, especially the type of selfless devotion that Whitey has for Celia, is almost the only redemptive factor in the book. Thus, even though Whitey does not succeed in 'winning' Celia, he is the true hero because he has been motivated by love, something that other characters sneer at.


Gender Roles

the distinction between Bertha and Celia is characteristic of many Goodis of many Goodis novels. Bertha is not a 'typical' woman: she is tall (nearly 6 feet), big (over 300 pounds), ugly and stronger than most men. She is brutally violent at the slightest provocation and enjoys being so. Celia is Bertha's opposite. She is skinny, quiet, and retiring. Celia occupies the more traditional gender role of Sharkey's beautiful waif-like girlfriend. Sharkey is, therefore, a traditional patriarchal figure, but his impotence both undermines and complicates his 'traditional' masculine qualitits. In short, all the characters are too dominated by the extremities of their environment to occupy wholly traditional gender roles, and such roles are not even held up as an ideal.


Ethnicity

the novel spends a good deal of time describing the racial tensions that exist between the whites and Puerto Ricans in the city. Whitey, through being falsely accused of murder, by necessity gets to know some of the Puerto Rican characters, and it is clear that the novel's sympathies lie squarely with them, as victims of both racism and police brutality. The novel works hard to demonstrate the humanity of this oppressed minority.


Alcohol/Drug Abuse

Whitey and his buddies are alcoholics. We are given to understand that Whitey's renewed search for Celia may turn out to be a substitute for booze, but by the end of the novel, Whitey returns to the comfort of the bottle and the commune of his fellow winos. Goodis does not criticize this, nor does he find it tragic. Rather, alcohol is the logical end-point and only consolation in an urban environment this tough and unforgiving.


Law Enforcement

the portrayal of Taggert, the corrupt cop, and brutal policemen on all sides give a very negative picture of the methods law enforcement uses to enforce order. Goodis makes it clear that the police are asked to do an almost impossible job, but he is strongly critical of the brutal and corrupt methods they choose to use. Even though Taggert's plans to become police captain are eventually defeated, there is no sense that this is something to celebrate; corruption and brutality will no doubt continue.


Added Features

the concern with racism that Goodis evinces in this novel is extremely unusual in his work. The only other example of it is his next novel The Wounded and the Slain (1955).


Subject Headings

Alcoholism/ Prejudices/ Puerto Ricans - Pennsylvania (Philadelphia)/ Gangs/ Police


Psychological Elements

fear and tension dominate much of the book, especially when Whitey is being hunted by the police. But perhaps the book's strongest psychological feature is the belief in fate and determinism. Technically speaking, when Whitey runs across Sharkey's gang again, he has a choice: to get involved or not to get involved. In another sense, however, we are made to feel that, in resuming his attempts to be with Celia, Whitey is simply living out a predetermined course of events. Even the inevitability of failure does not stop Whitey from playing out his role in the required way.


Film Adaptations

Street of No Return, Thunder, 1991