Monday, October 19, 2009

City on the Make (first half)

I am half way through my first reading of Nelson Algren’s Chicago: City on the Make and so far much of it reads like an extended letter written in the back of a high school senior’s yearbook, “Have fun in college and don’t forget L.E.M.F.!!! May Big Bill and the Del Montes live forever in the Senior Lunch Room!!! Good Times!!!” Nostalgic in-jokes to those in the know but completely meaningless to outsiders. As a confirmed Chicago outsider am completely left behind. The research required to make even a small portion of chapter two understandable makes me tired to think about. It seems like a book with a very limited audience since he does so little to explain any of his references.

Two cities, “one for the White Sox and none for the Cubs.” I think that is supposed to be funny, but I’m not sure why. And I assume all this stuff about Dwight Moody is related to the Moody Church that owns half of my neighborhood? The few references I do understand give me a feeling of accomplishment. I do know that Prohibition had its roots in Chicago, Evanston I think. And the line about, “if you’re entirely square yourself,” move to the North Shore, “where Reader’s Digest is a faith,” is funny.

Some of the themes present so far in this book we’ve seen in other readings: Chicago as two cities, a city of neighborhoods, a city where many people pass through anonymously, were all themes present in The Jungle, Devil in the White City, and linked to the Industrial Revolution. The millions of workers who populated the train yards, stock yards, and factories and make the city run, but individually pass through the city unnoticed. People seemed to experience Chicago at the turn of the century (and now, to a certain extent) as a city very much divided: the haves and the have-nots, and a city of neighborhoods which people very rarely ventured out of. Even now it is North siders and South siders, the cubs and the sox, those who vacation in Michigan and those who vacation in Wisconsin. Maybe it’s just due to the vastness of the city – it is too much to take in all at once so we create divisions in our minds.

So far this text definitely suggests more questions than answers. What is a “Trust” in the Chicago context? The Jungle had some kind of Trust established among the meat packing plants and the Tobacco Trust is mentioned in City on the Make. Is a Trust an inherently corrupt arrangement, like a monopoly?

City on the Make also has the same rough, direct writing style I have come to expect from Chicago lit. I am beginning to understand it as an expression of the mood the writers are trying to convey: tough, straightforward, unpretty.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree. I don't know what edition of the book you have, BUT, If you purchased the book from UIC, did you check out the NOTES section in the back of the book? It has an incredibly helpful word list with descriptions an notes.