The Man with the Golden Arm

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The clock in the room above the Safari told only Junkie Time. For every hour here was Old Junkie's Hour and the walls were the color of all old junkies' dreams: the hue of diluted morphine in the moment before the needle draws the suffering blood. / Walls that went up and up like walls in a troubled dream. Walls like water where no legend could be written and no hand grasp metal or wood. [...] He was falling between glacial walls, he didn't know how anyone could fall so far away from everyone else in the world. So far to fall, so cold all the way, so steep and dark between those morphine-colored walls of [an addict]'s terrible pit.

The Man with the Golden Arm (1949) is a novel by American writer Nelson Algren. It won the 1950 National Book Award and was adapted into the 1955 film of the same name.

Set in Chicago from 1946 to 1948, it is the tragedy of Frankie Machine, a young WW2 vet. Using his "golden arm" for illicit card-dealing instead of drumming, he contends with a failing marriage and a morphine addiction. Around him, colorful characters from the "Polish-American ghetto".

Quotes[edit]

Quoted from the 2009 edition, Canongate, ISBN 978-1-84767-642-9.

Title[edit]

  • The man with the golden arm.
    • The novel popularized the phrase and inspired Leonard Cohen's 1967 piece "The Stranger Song".

Part 1. Rumors of Evening[edit]

  • The captain never drank. Yet, toward nightfall in that smoke-colored season between Indian summer and December's first true snow, he would sometimes feel half drunken. He would hang his coat neatly over the back of his chair in the leaden station-house twilight, say he was beat from lack of sleep and lay his head across his arms upon the query-room desk.
    • Opening lines, police captain Bednar, fall 1946.
  • The city had filled him with the guilt of others; he was numbed by his charge sheet's accusations. For twenty years, upon the same scarred desk, he had been recording larceny and arson, sodomy and simony, boosting, hijacking and shootings in sudden affray: blackmail and terrorism, incest and pauperism, embezzlement and horse theft, tampering and procuring, abduction and quackery, adultery and mackery.
    • Captain Bednar.
  • ‘I got nuttin' against Kvork. It's just him don't like me,’ the chinless wonder protested. ‘Fact is I respect Cousin for doin' his legal duty – every time he picks me up I get more respect. After all, everybody got to get arrested now 'n then, I'm no better'n anybody else. Only that one overdoes it, Captain. He can't get it t'rough his big muttonhead I'm unincapable, that's all.’
    • Sparrow Saltskin to Captain Bednar about Sergeant "Cousin Kvork" Kvorka.
  • ‘Any time you want me, Captain, just phone by Antek, he'll come 'n tell me I got to come down 'n get arrested. I like gettin' locked up now 'n then, it's how a guy stays out of trouble. I'll grab a cab if you're in a real big hurry to pinch me sometime – I don't like bein' late when I got a chance of doin' thirty days for somethin' I never done.’
    • Sparrow Saltskin to Captain Bednar.
  • ‘He ain't no moron,’ the veteran confided to Record Head, ‘he's a moroff. You know; more off than on.’
    • Frankie Machine to Captain "Record Head" Bednar, in front of and about Sparrow Saltskin.
  • It's all in the wrist 'n I got the touch,’ Frankie was fond of boasting of his nerveless hands and steady eye. ‘I never get nowheres but I pay my own fare all the way.’ Frankie was regular.
    • Frankie Machine, card dealer.
  • That was the way things were because that was how things had always been. Which was why they could never be any different. Neither God, war, nor the ward super work any deep change on West Division Street. For here God and the ward super work hand in hand and neither moves without the other's assent. [...] For the super's God is a hustler's God; and as wise, in his way, as the God of the priests and the businessmen. / The hustlers' Lord, too, protects His own: the super has been in office fourteen years without having a single bookie door nailed shut in his territory without his personal consent. No man can manage that without the help of heaven and the city's finest precinct captains.
  • The little petit-larceny punk from Damen and Division and the dealer still got along like a couple playful pups. ‘He's like me,’ Frankie explained, ‘never drinks. Unless he's alone or with somebody.’
    • Sparrow Saltskin and Frankie Machine.
  • Frankie studied the shivering punk. ‘Don't shake,’ he commanded. ‘When you get the shakes in my business you're through. Steady hand 'n steady eye is what does it. [...] Frankie Machine. That's me – the kid with the golden arm.’
    • Frankie Machine to Sparrow Saltskin, winter 1939 flashback.
  • ‘I can get in more trouble in two days of not tryin' than most people can get into in a lifetime of tryin' real hard – [...] It's 'cause I really like trouble, Frankie, that's my trouble. If it wasn't for trouble I'd be dead of the dirty monotony around this crummy neighborhood. When you're as ugly as I am you got to keep things movin' so's people don't get the time to make fun of you. That's how you keep from feelin' bad.’
    • Sparrow Saltskin to Frankie Machine.
  • That night, while the little twenty-watt bulbs burned on in a single unwinking fury down the whitewashed tier, Frankie Machine was touched by an old wound fever and dreamed, for the second time in his life, of the man with the thirty-five-pound monkey on his back.
    • The novel popularized the 1930s slang phrase "a monkey on the back" (a drug addiction).
  • Frankie Machine had seen some bad ones in his twenty-nine years. But any one of these looked as though all the others had beaten him all night with barrel staves. Faces bloody as raw pork ground slowly in the great city's grinder; faces like burst white bags, one with eyes like some dying hen's and one as bold as a cornered bulldog's; eyes with the small bright gleam of hysteria and eyes curtained by the dull half glaze of grief. These glanced, and spoke, and vaguely heard and vaguely made reply; yet looked all day within upon some ceaseless horror there: the twisted ruins of their own tortured, useless, lightless and loveless lives.
  • The great, secret and special American guilt of owning nothing, nothing at all, in the one land where ownership and virtue are one. Guilt that lay crouched behind every billboard which gave each man his commandments; for each man here had failed the billboards all down the line. No Ford in this one's future nor ever any place all his own.
  • All had gone stale for these disinherited. Their very lives gave off a certain jailhouse odor: it trailed down the streets of Skid Row behind them till the city itself seemed some sort of open-roofed jail with walls for all men and laughter for very few. On Skid Row even the native-born no longer felt they had been born in America. They felt they had merely emerged from the wrong side of its billboards.
  • These were the luckless living soon to become the luckless dead. [...] / Then, only one day too late, they became VIPs at last. Front and profile photographs and a brass tag looped about the neck to await none other than the deputy coroner himself, a police hold order and a genuine pauper's writ.
  • A roach had leaped, or fallen, from the ceiling into the water bucket, where a soggy slice of pumpernickel and a sodden hunk of sausage now circled slowly, about and about, although there was no current. Belly upward, the roach's legs plied the alien air, trying dreamily to regain a foothold; while Frankie, leaning dreamily on one elbow, knew just how that felt.
    • Frankie Machine in jail.
  • ‘I'm no good but my wife's a hundred per cent,’ somebody down the tier confided aloud to everyone in hearing distance. / ‘Mine stinks,’ Frankie Machine thought softly; immediately his conscience kicked him in the shin. ‘I got a good one too,’ he answered loudly to make up for everything. / And his conscience kicked him in the other shin for lying.
  • The growing light began making a stairway to nowhere out of the shadows of the bars: a stairwell lit feebly by the reflecting mirror's glow as it competed with the lightening day.
    • In jail.
  • ‘You got somebody's legs you want bust, spigothead? T'ree-fifty fer one 'n two fer five – you save a deuce gettin' 'em both done at once 'n it's easier on the mark, too. He oney got to go to the hospital once, my way.’
    • Sparrow Saltskin trying to impress his boss Zero Schwiefka. (Sic: "oney".)
  • ‘We're layin' low a couple days,’ Schwiefka evaded the accusation, ‘till I get the tables moved back to the alley joint. We ought to get a loose crowd up there Saturday night. What time you be around?’ / ‘Not early enough to move no tables, that's a lead-pipe cinch,’ and turned away. / Schwiefka was long used to the turned back. He had brought news of salvation to men before.
    • Zero Schwiefka and Frankie Machine.
  • [The turnkey] watched the pair mounting the narrow steps toward a narrower freedom. On the street they waited for a northbound car. / A car that came on slowly, but not too slowly for Frankie Machine. If it would just sort of keep on coming forever, like streetcars sometimes did for him in dreams, without ever really arriving, he wouldn't have to go anywhere any more. The dealer didn't want to go home. Sophie did all the dealing there.
    • Frankie Machine (with Sparrow Saltskin) about his wife Sophie Machine.
  • He was simply a man who didn't know what to do with himself, for he didn't yet know who he was. It's sometimes easier to find a job than to find oneself and John hadn't yet gotten around to doing the first. How could he know who he was? Some find themselves through joy, some through suffering and some through toil. Johnny had till now tried nothing but whisky. A process which left him feeling like somebody new every day. / [...] He was many men and no man at all. He was a hysterical little bundle of possibilities that could never come true.
    • About Drunkie John.
  • ‘She got too big a heart, that girl,’ Antek explained of Molly when John had left. ‘A guy can walk into her heart with army boots on.
    • Antek Witwicki about Molly Novotny (abused by her boyfriend Drunkie John).
  • The old-timers, like the dealer and his wife, battled, like respectable people should, behind closed doors. Schwabatski's ears had long ago tuned out the sort of roarer that the dealer and his Sophie sometimes put on. To a stranger it would have sounded like one word short of murder; but the Jailer would shuffle past, explaining it to himself: ‘They want to love each other – but they don't know how.’ And shrug upon his way.
    • Landlord Schwabatski about tenants Frankie Machine and his wife Sophie Machine.
  • Behind the curtain of loneliness which had sheltered her childhood a sick dread had grown. Of being left, some final evening, alone in a room like this small room with no one of her own near at all. / A dread she sometimes evaded by reaching for an outsized album labeled, in her own childish and belabored hand, My Scrapbook of Fatal Accidence. [...] / She had begun the book with the Times photo of her own ‘fatal accident’ and had gone on to add to it all manner of lurid cries from the depths: of unwed mothers who plunged newborn infants down dumbwaiters in an oatmeal box or tossed them into a furnace in a cornflake carton because ‘God told me to.’ To announce, when a visitor remarked that the house seemed rather warm: ‘I know. I just put the baby in the stove.’ / [...] Best of all was the yellowing photo from the Times that proved to him, each day anew, that it had all been his fault. So much his fault that he could never leave her alone again.
    • About weelchair-bound Sophie Machine and her husband Frankie Machine.
  • When he wakened he would see her in the corner where the light and darkness met, half her face in the fading shadows of Saturday night and half in Sunday morning's rain-washed light.
    • Frankie Machine and his wife Sophie Machine.
  • ‘There's only fifty cards in your deck tonight, honey,’ Frankie reproached her gently. ‘I think you got a little repercussion again today.’ / ‘You mean a concussion, dummy.’ For once she had him. / ‘No, I mean a repercussion. Like you been bounced on your head twice.’
    • Frankie Machine and his wife Sophie Machine.
  • ‘It's been so long since I had a beer I just don't know what kind I like no more.’ / With yesterday's empties crouching behind her chair. / ‘I don't know, Frankie,’ she complained with a distress like a tired child's. ‘How many kinds are there? I don't even know what kinds there are any more.’ / ‘There's Budweiser,’ he told her indulgently, as if enumerating distant relatives, ‘then there's Schlitz, and Blatz, and Pabst and Chevalier [...]
    • Sophie Machine and her husband Frankie Machine.
  • Again it had been all his fault, she realized: even the dog on the landing below began yapping up at him. And on top of everything else calling her dirty names – nothing could make up for a man calling his wife dirty names any more than broken china could be mended to look like new.
    • Sophie Machine about her husband Frankie Machine.
  • The sign above the cash register of the Tug & Maul Bar indicated Antek the Owner's general attitude toward West Division Street: I'VE BEEN PUNCHED, KICKED, SCREWED, DEFRAUDED, KNOCKED DOWN, HELD UP, HELD DOWN, LIED ABOUT, CHEATED, DECEIVED, CONNED, LAUGHED AT, INSULTED, HIT ON THE HEAD AND MARRIED. SO GO AHEAD AND ASK FOR CREDIT I DON'T MIND SAYING NO.
    • About Antek "the Owner" Witwicki.
  • Pig wore a creamy, dreamy smirk to veil a long-standing grudge against everybody. He could smile like a chicken-fed tomcat while wishing everyone bad luck without exception.
    • About Blind Pig, bitter from losing his sight.
  • The clock in the room above the Safari told only Junkie Time. For every hour here was Old Junkie's Hour and the walls were the color of all old junkies' dreams: the hue of diluted morphine in the moment before the needle draws the suffering blood. / Walls that went up and up like walls in a troubled dream. Walls like water where no legend could be written and no hand grasp metal or wood.
    • Above the Club Safari bar, where drug is sold.
  • Frankie moaned like an animal that cannot understand its own pain. His shirt had soaked through and the pain had frozen so deep in his bones nothing could make him warm again. / ‘Hit me, Fixer. Hit me.’ / A sievelike smile drained through Louie's teeth. This was his hour and this hour didn't come every day. [...] He was falling between glacial walls, he didn't know how anyone could fall so far away from everyone else in the world. So far to fall, so cold all the way, so steep and dark between those morphine-colored walls of [an addict]'s terrible pit.
    • Frankie Machine to Louie "Fixer" Fomorowski. (Edit: "of Private McGantic's terrible pit", after old slang "McGantic" for morphine.)
  • ‘Man, their eyes when that big drive hits 'n goes tinglin' down to the toes. They retch, they sweat, they itch – then the big drive hits 'n here they come out of it cryin' like a baby 'r laughin' like a loon. Sure I like to watch. Sure I like to see it hit. Heroin got the drive awright – but there's not a tingle to a ton – you got to get M to get that tingle-tingle.
    • Louie Fomorowski about watching his morphine customers.
  • ‘Man, I wasn't hooked, I was crucified. The monkey got so big he was carryin' me. 'Cause the way it starts is like this, students: you let the habit feed you first 'n one mornin' you wake up 'n you're feedin' the habit. / [...] Then I got forty grains 'n went up to the room 'n went from monkey to nothin' in twenny-eight days 'n that's nine-ten years ago 'n the monkey's dead.’ / ‘The monkey's never dead, Fixer,’ Frankie told him knowingly.
    • Louie Fomorowski and Frankie Machine, about the "monkey on their back" (drug addiction).
  • She remembered the years of their courtship like remembering an alien land. [...] Together she and Frankie had carried Easter lamb to Old St. Stephen's for Father Simon's blessing – could it really be so long? How had they both forgotten God so soon? Or had God forgotten them? Certainly God had gone somewhere far away at just the time when she'd needed Him most. Perhaps He too had volunteered and just hadn't gotten His discharge yet. Perhaps He had been a full colonel and still felt the need of keeping His distance. If He had been only a private, then He must have re-enlisted. Or else the world had gone wrong all by itself.
    • Sophie Machine (now in a failing marriage).
  • ‘I never run for streetcars,’ he'd had the brassbound nerve to tell her the year she was seventeen, after standing her up for half an hour in front of the Pulaski. ‘What's the use? There's always another big red rollin' along right behind. Just like you dames – soon as a guy misses with one all he has to do is look back over his shoulder 'n here comes another down the block pullin' up for a fast pickup.’ / ‘I just won't stand for that kind of talk,’ she'd told him flatly, stamping with rage. ‘I want you to be where you're supposed to be when you're supposed to be 'n dressed like you're goin' to the Aragon, not to shoot six-no-count pool by Wieczorek – that's what I want.’ / ‘There's people in hell want ice water too,’ he'd grinned at her.
    • Frankie Machine and his future wife Sophie, pre-war flashback.
  • If only he would have hit her so that they would have been able to make it all up in bed later. ‘If Jesus Christ treated me like you do I'd drive in the nails myself,’ she told him in her mind as, in a passion of frustration, she watched him dealing, eternally dealing.
    • Sophie Machine about her husband Frankie Machine.
  • In twenty seconds the abandoned Ashland Avenue midnight was thronging with sprouts who should have been in bed for hours and windows began blazing with light as if everyone had been sitting around in the dark just waiting for an accident to happen and here they came, lurching with age and skipping with youth, the lame, the sick and the lazy, the fearful, the cheerful and the tamed, [...] all those for whom nothing had yet happened in the world shouting that it had happened at last, they'd always known it would happen sooner or later, that corner had always looked so unlucky. / Something had finally happened outside of the movies.
    • After a car crash.
  • Frankie sat on the curb [...] wondering how to get the booze off his breath in a hurry. / ‘You kids got a stick of gum?’ he whispered to two ten-year-old girls studying him placidly, both of them chewing like twin calves side by side. One came up with a single dirty stick, its wrapper long unpeeled, and offered it just out of Frankie's reach. / ‘Joosy Froot. Only cost you a nickel.’ Her accomplice nodded approvingly. ‘That stuff is pretty hard to get these days, mister.’ / Frankie found a lone dime and when the girl had it safely in her hand she advised him further, in lieu of a nickel change, ‘You don't have to worry about that stupid bull, mister. He's as stiff as you are.’ / ‘He can fwisk you but he can't search you,’ the other told him softly, with the softest lisp possible. ‘Don't let him search you without a wawwant.’
    • Frankie Machine after a drunk-driving accident.
  • [Zygmunt the Prospector] had attended so many night schools in his early manhood that now, in his bustling middle age, he retained the pallor of his Kent College nights: the look of the downtown pavements after the rush-hour window-shoppers are doing all their window-shopping through the bright interiors of dreams. The light on his glasses seemed a reflection of the light of law-school chandeliers in those desperate days when he felt that if he didn't pass the bar he'd be tending one the rest of his life. He looked like a man who had never seen a cloud.
  • For the reception desks regarded ambulance chasing as some sort of felony or other and Zygmunt himself, at certain moments, wasn't altogether too sure it might not turn out to be denounced as such on Judgment Day. Therefore he played it safe by hustling both sides of the street, the churches as well as the hospitals, and had more novenas to his credit than defrauded cripples. He kept the ledger balanced slightly in Heaven's favor.
  • ‘You must of been readin' about that couple in the paper, their car caught fire.’ / ‘What happened to them?’ Her breath felt cut off. [...] / ‘They were trapped, that's all.’ / ‘Oh.’ With relief. Things that happened out of town never seemed to have happened to real people somehow.
    • Frankie Machine and his wife Sophie Machine.
  • The analyst at the people's clinic was young, pure in heart, and dressed in theories as spotless as his own chaste white jacket.
    • Dr. Pasterzy.
  • [...] old Doc Dominoes, as they called him, wasn't Doc Dominowski at all. The original Doc Dominowski had had a license. But after his passing his daughter had rented his office to this blood-reversing impostor who'd left the deceased doc's shingle up. A ruse as simple as that. Though in print he had never claimed to be anything but a wandering masseur. / [...] He boasted that he was the most popular spine manipulator and ray caster on the Northwest Side. He still looked like the business end of a fugitive warrant to Frankie.
  • For those nearest our hearts are the ones most likely to tread upon them. What she could not gain through love she sought to possess by mockery. He was too dear to her: into everything he did she must read some secret hatred of herself.
    • Sophie Machine about her husband Frankie Machine.
  • ‘I've had trouble with my eyes lately,’ Vi would hint till Sophie would ask why she didn't get glasses. / ‘It's not that kind of trouble. It's from flirtin', that kind of trouble. Me 'n my bedroom eyes.’ / That was Violet's idea of high humor and Sophie's idea of nothing at all.
    • Violet "Vi" Koskozka to Sophie Machine.
  • ‘I've seen a thing or two in my time,’ he still liked to boast, ‘that was how I found out the best place for wolfin' ain't the taverns. It ain't in dance halls 'r on North Clark on Saturday night. It's in the front row in Sunday school on Sunday mornin'. Oh yeh, I know a thing or two, I been around.’ / The punk knew a thing or two all right. He knew almost everything except how to stay out of jail. For jail was the one place he'd been most around.
    • Sparrow Saltskin to his bar friends.
  • Lies are just a poor man's pennies,’ Violet told her.
    • Violet Koskozka to Sophie Machine.
  • ‘He was just so afraid he wasn't good enough for me, that's all his braggin' was,’ Violet explained. ‘He didn't think he was good enough for anybody, he was tryin' so hard to show he was somebody. So it was up to me to show him he was somebody all by hisself – that's the first thing a woman got to do for a man. 'N of course there's no sense tryin' to prove somethin' like that standin' up. The least a girl owes to herself is to be comfortable about it.’
    • Violet Koskozka about how she got in bed with Sparrow Saltskin.
  • ‘And what I really like about you is that if you had a hummingbird's brains you'd fly backerds,’ the punk forgave her for everything she'd done for him. / She'd kept him out of trouble then until he'd slipped on the ice one January night and that had been the worst rap of all. The sidewalk was like the dance floor at Guyman's Paradise, anyone could have fallen. And have one elbow go through a window. A jewelry-store window. In the dark a thing like that could happen to a Park District policeman.
    • Sparrow Saltskin to Violet Koskozka.
  • Early morning, everyone from the first floor to the fourth up to do an honest day's hustling and Louie doing the talking for everyone. ‘My business is everybody's business – informin' is a racket like everythin' else. Anythin' that pays ain't nothin' to be ashamed of, one racket's as good as the next. A man who's ashamed of his racket is a man who's ashamed of his mother. The only thing a man got a right to be ashamed of these days is bein' broke.
    • Louie Fomorowski.
  • Long lonesome shadows of the December tenements that fled the neon carnival below to turn each night toward her for rest. / This was the shadow-gatherers' hour: the hour for those all over the earth who had rest neither in sleep nor waking. Some gathered their shadows like memories; but she gathered hers like unborn children to her pale and secret eyes. / [...] They moved toward her then for warmth, they had been feeling unwanted all day. Like everyone else in the world for whom things had gone wrong. They knew that here they would come alive, for here they were loved and wanted at last. She alone knew how lost all shadows felt: it made them the dearer to her own unwanted heart. / To the heart weighed down by its own uselessness. What good is any unwanted heart?
    • Sophie Machine at dusk.
  • For the city too was somehow crippled of late. The city too seemed a little insane. Crippled and caught and done for with everyone in it. No one else was really any better off than herself, she reflected with a child's satisfaction, they had all been twisted about a bit whether they sat in a wheelchair or not. She could tell just by the way once familiar doorways had come to look menacing in the morning light, ready to be slammed in the face of anyone who knocked at all. Nobody was at home to anyone else any more.
    • Sophie Machine.
  • ‘I'm a businessman,’ the punk explained with dignity. ‘I fulfill my obligations even if I have to rob a warehouse to do it. You think I want my credit to lapse? That's the difference between a businessman like me 'n a cheap hustler like you – you hustlers got no credit.’ / Frankie shuffled the deck slowly, stalling in the hope that the suckers might start knocking to get the night over and done and forgotten. ‘That's the trouble with the whole country, all you businessmen cheatin' the peoples so fast 'n hard there's nothin' left for an honest hustler to steal.’ / ‘I'll tell you what I think for true,’ Sparrow offered seriously, ‘I don't think there's any difference: a businessman is a hustler with the dough to hustle on the legit 'n a hustler is a businessman who's either gone broke or never had it. Back me up with five grand tonight 'n tomorrow mornin' I get a invitation to join the Chamber of Commerce 'n no questions asked.’
    • Sparrow Saltskin and Frankie Machine.
  • ‘I just thought you'd like to see a dog that drinks beer,’ Frankie apologized [...]. Rumdum, at first listening only listlessly, picked up suddenly and hauled Frankie forward into the room. / ‘The smell of Budweiser makes him powerful,’ Frankie explained. Before she could get the saucer filled Rumdum had licked the saucer dry and Frankie had to clamp his snout with both hands, the great hound whimpering brokenheartedly, till she could get it filled again without losing a finger. / ‘He ain't had a drink all day,’ Frankie sympathized with all dry throats.
    • Frankie Machine calling on Molly Novotny with Rumdum the dog.
  • Violet had wheeled Sophie to Mass – [...]. Maybe if he went along some Sunday, suddenly right there by the altar rail Sophie would get up on her feet and tell him, ‘Nobody'll have to wheel me here no more, Frankie. Let's go dancin' by Guyman's Paradise t'night.’ / But Sunday morning was always pretty rugged for anything but sleep. All the miracles were performed on Saturday night, it seemed.
    • Frankie Machine about his wheelchair-bound wife Sophie Machine and her friend Violet Koskozka.
  • One by one Schwiefka's shills would give place; as the winter night wore on, the stakes would grow higher as the air grew heavier and the marks grew lighter; to be replaced, one by one, like so many sausages into the same sure grinder. / [...] / Till Frankie would sit back wearily, sick of seeing them come on begging to be hustled, wondering where in the world they all came from and how in the world they all earned it and what in the world they told their wives and what, especially, they told themselves and why in the world they always, always, always, always came back for more. / [...] / ‘I hope I break even tonight,’ was the sucker's philosophy, ‘I need the money so bad.’
    • Frankie Machine dealing in the backroom of Zero Schwiefka's bar.
  • As this night followed a thousand nights and these men followed a thousand hopers who had sat here before them to go down to their graves holding a four-card straight in one hand and would never be remembered at all. Their mouths were stuffed with race-track dust; and no one to remember at all. / Their sons had taken their places, passing the time, while waiting for death to deal one from the bottom, by drawing to aces and eights. Their hell was a full house that never won and their last hope of heaven a royal flush.
  • Now dealer and players alike united in an unspoken conspiracy to stave off morning forever. Each bet as if the loss of a hand meant death in prison or disease and when it was lost hurried the dealer on. ‘Cards, cards.’ For the cards kept the everlasting darkness off, the cards lent everlasting hope. The cards meant any man in the world might win back his long-lost life, gone somewhere far away. / ‘Don't take it hard, your life don't go with it,’ was the philosophy of the suckers' hour. / But each knew in his heart, when he said that, that he lied: each knew that his life was reshuffled here with every hand.
  • She raised her arms elegantly, like a real lady in a deodorant ad, high over her head. ‘Anyhow it ain't red, it's just awe-burn. Would you like me wit' red hair all over?’ / ‘I like redheads of any color – [...]’
    • Violet Koskozka and Sparrow Saltskin.
  • She unbuttoned his field jacket, he looked so warm, and tripped the knot of the little blue jazzbow about his throat like tripping the knot which held his innards so tightly of late. He felt the knot within loosen with the realization that he could talk straight to somebody at last. / For how does any man keep straight with himself if he has no one with whom to be straight? He had never fully trusted Sparrow, the punk thought too fast for him. In their world of petty cheats, phony braggarts, double clockers, elbow sneaks, small-time chiselers, touts and stooges and gladhand-shakers, one had always to be on guard.
    • Molly Novotny and Frankie Machine.
  • The naked bulb that burned overhead, by night, by noon, by twilit hours, hung like a little bald yellow skull on a chain like a twisted rope. Below it she had a candle burning, a candle red as wine. Its tiny flame pointed, upon the yellow wall, to the skull burning overhead: it glinted a bit on the bottle of cheap cologne and in the depths of dark-haired Molly's eyes. On the other side of the window a prairie snow fell across backstreet and tenement, looking for dry leaves upon which to rest and finding only concrete and steel.
  • ‘I'm settin' here three days now waitin' for you, listenin' to the Els go by, countin' how many cars it sounds like. You don't know how lonely it gets, waitin' for El cars. Frankie, let's both quit stonin' ourselves.’ / He didn't know she was crying till her tears touched his lips.
    • Molly Novotny to Frankie Machine.
  • When Owner wanted to cry, he cried, and anything at all did for an excuse. What really mattered with Owner wasn't on the tongue but in the heart; since he had no words for his heart, he wept. / ‘I'm not cryin' for my own trouble, [...] I'm cryin' for everybody's.’ He took off his glasses to cry the better for everyone; for the lenses were so splashed with tears they were indistinguishable from the beads of sweat about his round bald brow. / ‘You're cryin' from the skull now, Owner,’ Frankie informed him. ‘When it starts comin' out of your ears it's time to use the handkerchief.’
    • Antek "the Owner" Witwicki to Frankie Machine.
  • They wandered in from all over the ward, the invited and the uninvited, the wary and the seeking, the strayed, the frayed, the happy and the hapless, the lost, the luckless, the lucky and the doomed. Some, on the assumption that if anyone were getting out of jail it must be the punk again, to congratulate Sparrow; only to find all the more reason for celebration when they learned that, just for this once, it wasn't the punk at all. / Everyone got congratulated for something or other whether he deserved it or not. Everyone but Old Man, who couldn't even get congratulated on his new socks. [...] And Violet, finding pity at the bottom of a whisky glass, began making every stewbum, who came up to kiss her, shake hands with Old Husband first and admire his socks. Till the old man, clutching his calendar dates like so many retrieved hours, felt the party must really be for him after all.
    • New Year's Eve party (1946/1947), including Sparrow Saltskin, the senile Stash "Old Man" Koskozka, and his young wife Violet Koskozka.
  • It was Happy New Year everywhere except in Molly Novotny's heart; neither her heart nor her nest gave sign of the season. The stove was smoking again and she thought carelessly, ‘We get the ones the landlords buy up for old iron,’ of both the stove and her heart. The day comes when both feel past throwing heat. / It's like that for all hustlers' hearts: to pay the most and get the worst. The only thing a hustling girl has that doesn't get stopped up is her purse. And that's as full of holes as a married man's promises. / [...] She had never understood why she had lived with a man like Drunkie John, for whom she had cared nothing at all, and found the answer now: when a woman feels useless she doesn't think anything of throwing herself away.
  • There, across the hallway window, the Division Street Station's signal tower stood out clearly and abruptly, its red and green ornamentation glowing down the tracks like an iron caricature of the Christmas tree they had left behind in a half-lighted hall. / With his arm about her they paused to see the snow falling aslant the crosslights as far as the night would let them see. / To Frankie that quarter-moon sky looked darker and all the iron apparatus of the El taller than ever. The artificial tenement light seeping across the tracks made even the snow seem artificial, like snow off a dime-store counter. Only the rails seemed real and to move a bit with some terrible intent. ‘Your hands 'r so cold I can feel the ice t'rough my mittens,’ Sophie told him, thrusting her damp, mittened hand out of his in a child's sudden displeasure. / So cold, so cold, hands, wrists and hearts: the old quarter-moon of the tenements shone no colder tonight than the blood crying for warmth in his wrists.
    • Frankie Machine and his wife Sophie Machine.
  • And though her eyes were still bloodshot from crying Sophie suddenly sang to him with a certain phony gaiety, ‘You're gonna miss your big fat mamma one of these daysyou know why I like that song? 'Cause it reminds me of one I really like.’ / In the icy dark the street lamp's frosty glow lay like hoar across dresser and wheelchair and bed. The clock was beating out its heart on the wall in a freezing pain and the luminous Christ gleamed all around with an icy, creaking mystery.
    • Wheelchair-bound Sophie Machine to her husband Frankie Machine.
  • In the corner, beneath a frosted bulb, Pig sat looking out upon that dark and wavering shore which only the eyeless may see and only the dead may wander.
    • Blind Pig at the Club Safari.
  • My wife only sleeps with her friends and she don't have a enmy in the world. Call her at Madison 1-6971 and have yourselfs one hell of a time. [...] Girls who would and girls who wouldn't. If they did they were no good and if they didn't what good were they?
    • Jail graffiti. (Sic: "enmy", "yourselfs".)
  • But any one side of any jailhouse wall is never much different than any other side. There are only the same old threadbare variations on the same age-old warnings against all the well-tried ancestral foes: whisky and women, sin and cigarettes, marijuana and morphine, marked cards and capped cocaine, dirty laughter and easy tears, engineered dice and casual disease, bad luck and adultery, old age and shyster lawyers, quack doctors and ambitious cops, crooked priests and honest burglars, lack of money and hard work.
  • ‘What you cuffed for?’ Record Head longed to know. / ‘Took a cab home was all,’ Frankie heard Blood-Spots explain. / ‘That's no crime. Did you pay the driver?’ / ‘I couldn't.’ / ‘Why not?’ / ‘He wasn't in the cab.’ / ‘That's the chances you take. Next man.’
    • Captain "Record Head" Bednar questioning suspects.
  • A girl in plaid slacks was being urged forward by a police matron. Casting her eyes downward, the black arrows of the girl's lashes became dipped in two great tears. / ‘Save it for the jury, Betty Lou,’ the captain counseled her and turned to the listeners. ‘This is the slickest little knockout broad in seventeen states. How come you always pick on married men, Betty Lou?’ / Betty Lou lifted the long damp lashes: the eyes held a wry and mocking light. / ‘They're the ones who don't sign complaints,’ she explained softly. And gave the audience a hard profile.
    • Captain Bednar questioning suspects.
  • So the men came on again: the ragged, crouching, slouching, buoyant, blinking, belligerent, nameless, useless supermen from nowhere. ‘For climbin' a telephone pole at t'ree A.M. wit' a peanuts machine on my back.’ ‘For makin' anon'mous phone calls to call my wife dirty names.’ [...] ‘Went upstairs with a girl 'n came down with a cop.’ [...] ‘Just throwed a rock at a wall 'n it happened to go through a window instead. So I followed through. But I didn't have no intent of stealing.’ / ‘You never have. But you're in and out like a fiddler's elbow all the same. What was the stretch in the Brushy Mountain pen for?’ / ‘I got the wrong number was all.’ / ‘I think you did. The wrong house number.’ / ‘That's right. The people were home. I was drinking pretty heavy.’
    • Suspects telling Captain Bednar what they've been cuffed for.
  • [...] the captain leaned forward on his elbows and spread his fingers gently across his temples; the light kept hurting his eyes. And didn't feel he had heart enough left to face one more man manacled by steel or circumstance until his own heart should stop hurting. / Yet they come on and come on, and where they come from no captain knows and where they go no captain goes: mush workers and lush workers, catamites and sodomites, bucket workers and bail jumpers, till tappers and assistant pickpockets, [...]; the damned and the undaunted, the jaunty and condemned.
    • Captain Bednar questioning suspects.
  • For there was no priest to wash clean the guilt of the captain's darkening spirit nor any judge to hear his accusing heart. [...] He could not even tell the names of those who'd taken the rap for him. / To leave him, of all men most alone, of all men most guilty of all the lusts he had ever condemned in others. / What was it that the defrocked priest had said? ‘We are all members of one another.’ What had the holy-sounding fraud meant by that? Why had several snickered then and not one had laughed out from the heart? Bednar hadn't understood then and could not let himself understand now. It had been too long since he himself had laughed from the heart. / Yet the words had left him with a secret and wishful envy of every man with a sentence hanging over his head like the very promise of salvation.
    • Captain Bednar after questioning suspects.

Part 2. Act of Contrition[edit]

  • ‘For two years I was off the booze, off the women, off the horses, off the dice. I even got engaged to get married in a church. All I done that whole time was run a freight elevator up 'n down, up 'n down. It scares me when I think of it now: I come near losin' everything. [...] All the good times I ever had in my life was what my little old new-rosis made me have. Them whole two years on the square I didn't have one good time. I like my little old new-rosis. It's all I got 'n I'm holdin' onto it hard. My advice to you is hold onto yours: lay off them psychos. Look out for the major. When guys like you 'n me get square we're dead.
    • In jail, Applejack Katz to Frankie Machine.
  • The cons up there were either in bug cells or deadlock. They were the privates who went for stronger brew than applejack. These no longer cared: these were the truly unsaved. Over the hump for redemption and the hour for turning back lost forever: too late, forever too late. So they hurried forward all the faster into the darkness. / They talked in terms of police administrations and remembered in terms of police cars. ‘That was the year the aces had black Cadillacs with a bell on the side – or was that the year they had them speedy orange Fords?’
    • In jail.
  • The junkie wants a bondsman though he doesn't own a dime. His life is down to a tight pin point and the pupils of his eyes drawn even tighter: nothing is reflected in them except a capsule of light the size of a single quarter grain of morphine. He has mounted the walls of all his troubles with no other help than that offered by the snow-white caps in the brown drugstore bottle. A self-made man.
    • In jail.
  • These were the ones who just wouldn't work. [...] They were the ones who had never learned to want. [...] They didn't even read comic books. They had been bored to death by all that the day before they were born. The whole business between birth and death was a sort of inverted comic strip, too dull to read even if set right.
    • In jail.
  • The whites went to school in the mornings and blacks in the afternoons. The sign in the mess-hall library said: / THINK / Read a good book / Which didn't at all mean that a black punk should be caught reading a good book at the same time as a white punk; and didn't say just what book. Each went to think separately, for the thinking of separate thoughts. For the black con's brain, it appeared, was darker than the white con's and therefore required the afternoon sunlight to assist the thinking of certain scheduled thoughts. / Yet, strangely enough, the chair in the basement accepted any color at all.
    • In jail.
  • The time the clockmakers had locked into the stopped clocks of these corridors was a different kind of time, Frankie felt, than that they had put into the clocks outside. Just as there was a different sort of time for cripples than for junkies, and a different kind of time than either for dealers, there was a special kind of time for convicts too.
    • In jail, Frankie Machine.
  • ‘Prove I'm nuts I go to the buggy bin – they feed you there, don't they? 'N if I ain't nuts I get the seat – so what? Then I don't have to bother with stinkin' squealas no more. It don't make me no difference. / Naw, I don't feel nuttin' good 'r bad. Good 'n bad is strictly for stinkin' squealas. [...] My old man? His one big trouble is he's always a pallbearer 'n never a corpse.
    • Death-sentenced Little Lester to a journalist.
  • He was only days from the chair if his last appeal were denied, yet slept and ate much as Frankie slept and ate. Therein lay a horror and a marvel for Frankie. [...] Little Lester's last appeal had been denied. [...] Such calmness seemed somehow more terrible to Frankie than if they'd said Lester was lying on his bunk in a dead-cold nightmare sweating out the hours. Instead he was sitting there killing the hours with cards just as Frankie had killed so many; while a clock had ticked away below a luminous crucifix. / There were no luminous Christs for Lester. Neither Christs nor clocks nor calendars.
    • Death-sentenced Little Lester as observed by Frankie Machine.
  • A few more days till summer vacation and out in the prison yard a great crane, straining skyward to see the first sign of summer, caught only a glint of rusted iron sunlight instead. These were days of clouds swollen gray with promise of rain – only to burst emptily and reveal the deepest sort of blue drifting there all the time.
  • [About Illinois's electric chair:] There was still one fugitive on Illinois's books that would die by the rope when he was caught. Down in the sheriff's basement [...] stood the gallows that waited, year in and year out, for Terrible Tommy O'Connor's return. [...] Though the building about it had long been demolished, the little brick room waited, in the middle of a parking lot, for Tommy to come back. The law forbade the room, as it forbade the gallows, to be demolished until O'Connor was hanged. It looked like a long wait. / For it well might be that the little room would be the great city's most immemorial monument, more lasting than the Art Institute lions on the boulevard, Bushman in his cage near the Lincoln Park Lagoon or Colonel McCormick in his bomb shelter below the river.
  • They had used an amperage of eight, everyone knew, because that was the usual amperage for a white man. Everyone said. Just as the usual amperage for a Negro was seven and a half. / Everyone knew. / Then they'd thrown him nine hundred extra volts just to make certain. Everyone knew about that too. Everyone told everyone else just how it had gone off. Everyone but Frankie had been there it seemed. / [...] / It wasn't until weeks after he'd been released that Frankie learned Little Lester had died on his bunk with eleven hours yet to live. / A heart attack, the warden had concluded. / Arsenic, the coroner's physician had insisted. / His heart had stopped beating too soon, the afternoon papers had reported.
    • In jail, about Little Lester's electric-chair execution.
  • Now, as the moon of other nights mounted the arch of June, he felt the touch of other Junes along the bars. Remembered how the orange Blatz signs of Wolcott Street would be glowing now each night more softly as the brief month passed trailing smoke, and July came on in a haze. And every arc lamp's reflection along the rain-wet, moon-wet, sun-wet, and summer-dusted walks would burn more deeply as the days burned longer. / Frankie could tell himself at last that he had buried his monkey as deeply as the county had buried Little Lester.
    • In jail, Frankie Machine after six months sans morphine "monkey" on his back.
  • As the fever lowered Frankie dreamed of someone folding and refolding bundles of newspapers right beside his cot and forced himself awake to see who it was this time. / Only the old woman of the wind, there on the other side of the pane, wrapping the great sheets of the rain.
    • In jail, Frankie Machine in the infirmary.
  • Then the trolleys, like mild-tempered elephants, approached each other slowly and paused, with a primitive graciousness, to let each other pass; and went shambling forward once more upon their predestined jungleways as though the pause had lent each a greater understanding of all things. / Frankie came down Division Street, where only arc lamps and fire hydrants grow, [...]
    • Frankie Machine out of jail.
  • Halfway up the first flight he made out the hulking raincoated figure of Poor Peter Schwabatski pushing an artificial daisy into a crack of the stair. How long was it now he'd been trying to make them grow there? [...] When the dimwit had once asked his papa why his flowers never grew, Frankie remembered the Jailer saying, ‘Because it never rains indoors.’ / That was a hard thing for Peter to understand. It seemed to him it rained all day indoors. All day it rained in Poor Peter's mind upon the paper daisies of his brain: a paper garden in a paper rain. It was the reason he always wore a raincoat, sun or rain; dust storm, blizzard or summer hail.
  • Umbrella Man came in to Schwiefka's every noon with the Times morning line crumpled in his pocket, the daily double checked off and fifty cents in his hand. He never won and never complained. He came in with a bottle on his hip, made his bets like a man paying a bill, and left with the relieved air of one who has settled a long-overdue debt. The only return he seemed to expect was the privilege of climbing the same stairs and trying again another day.
    • "Umbrella Man" in Zero Schwiefka's bar.
  • This freshly blooded race bred by the better advertising agencies looked down upon the barflies of the Tug & Maul, trying to understand how it was that these battered wrecks could look as though not one of them had ever seen a land of night-blue lakes with poolroom cues for trees. Nor any man's private library at all. They appeared not even to have discovered the public ones. / There were only boys with bad teeth, wives with faces still dented from last night's blows and girls whose hair was set so stiffly it looked metallic. There were only old drooling lushbums with faces like emptied goboons. There was only a long line of faces that had passed straight from the noseless embryo into the running nose of senility.
    • About beer ads on the wall.
  • ‘Oh, don't always pertend you don't know what I'm talkin' about,’ she persisted, ‘a woman is the downfall of every man 'n a man is the downfall of every woman. You're my downfall 'n I'm yours. [...] What I mean is there's nuttin' deader'n a dead love,’ she told him sternly, ‘nuttin' deader.’ / ‘Sure there is,’ he assured her lightly, ‘dead people. They're deader'n anybody.’
    • Sophie Machine and her husband Frankie Machine. (Sic: "pertend".)
  • Beneath the sink Rumdum slept with one ear alert for the coffeepot's first perk. Vi was trying to wean him off beer with coffee.
    • Rumdum the dog and Violet "Vi" Koskozka.
  • The alleys had always been his sanctuary; they had been kinder to him than the streets. He had spent those long-ago days searching the ashcans for the tinfoil in discarded cigarette packs. Though the boulevard gutters had been better for tinfoil prospecting, the alleys had always been safer. / The tinfoil racket had been abandoned for the pursuit of beer corks. A still on Blackhawk Street had paid a dime a hundred for them in those days.
    • Sparrow Saltskin.
  • ‘I may die poor,’ he felt with his returning strength, ‘but I won't die tied. It's not for me, the common-law life.’ And fed the second doughnut to Bogacz the Milkman's horse. ‘You married, horse?’ Sparrow asked in his rasping whisper. / The old stallion rolled one white, derisive eye: he saw so many of this aimless order of alley wanderers, forever emerging out of the shadows to feed him stolen restaurant sugar or doughnuts or salt he didn't really want. He took them only because he sometimes got lonely himself over the week ends. Though knowing there are worse things than loneliness along the long hard road to the glue works.
    • Sparrow Saltskin.
  • The Jews recalled last year's losses and forgot this hand's winnings. The Poles played the game for its own sake, to kill the monotony of their lives. The Jews played to make the hours return to them of what other hours, in other cities, had robbed their fathers; their lives were less boring away from the board than at it. The Pole, even when playing on borrowed money and the rent overdue, still felt, somehow, that he could afford to lose all night because he was so sure to win everything in the end. The Jew knew that the moment he felt he could afford to lose he would begin losing till the bottom of the world fell through and he himself went through the hole. It was more fun being a Polish gambler; it was safer to be a Jewish one.
  • His voice began drifting somewhere the other side of the room, the other side of the curtained window, the other side of the street and the other side of the world. ‘There's so many little worries floatin' around 'n floatin' around, why not roll 'em all up into one big worry? Just like goin' by the loan shark 'n gettin' enough to pay off all the little debts with one big one?’
    • Frankie Machine about getting hooked on drugs.
  • By the glare of the great double-globed arc lamp filtering through the dark and battered shade he saw that Sophie had left the chair at last and in its place had left a doll, some sort of mangy-looking straw-stuffed monkey of the kind that is won at street carnivals. Over its eyes and below them some mimic had painted in shadows of a purple harlotry with lipstick or rouge: the eyes surveyed the room gravely through its livid yet somehow dignified little mask. Like those of a child whose face, seared by disease, accepts the horror it reads in the eyes of others as its rightful heritage.
    • Frankie Machine dreaming.
  • A light like a mustiness left over from another century filtered through the single window, far above, too high for anyone but a fireman to wash. It had been so long since it had been cleaned that, even on summer noons with the sun like a brass bell across pavement and rooftop and wall, the light sifted down here with a chill autumnal hue. It was always December in the query room.
  • When someone yanked the cord of the unshaded night bulb suspended from the ceiling like an inverted question mark [...] shadows would leap from the corners in a single do-or-die try for the window; only to subside and swing awhile with the bulb's slow swinging. / Then the wooden benches along the walls [...] would be lit by a sort of slow, clocked lightning till the bulb steadied and fastened its tiny feral fury upon the center of the room like a single sullen and manic eye. To burn on there with a steady hate. Till morning wearied and dimmed it away to nothing more than some sort of little old lost gray child of a district-station moon, all its hatred spent.
  • For these were the very walls men meant when they said of another that he had his back to the wall. [...] / Indeed your query room is your only house of true worship, for it is here that men are brought to their deepest confessions. The more false and farfetched their lies, the deeper and truer the final passion of their admission. / It was here that the truth, so calmly concealed from priest, mother, lawyer, doctor, friend and judge – from their very selves indeed – rose with such revealing fury at last to the tongue.
  • ‘The dealer's on the needle,’ was the whisper, and overnight he was an outcast of outcasts and a new dealer [...] sat in the slot. If Frankie wanted to take a hand the boys made room for him. Just a bit too much room, he fancied; the way they'd make room for a syphilitic. For the man on the needle, though he be your brother, is a stranger to every human who lives without morphine.
    • Frankie Machine.
  • ‘You want to buy a dog?’ Implying that a dog, any dog, was the one certain solution, in an uncertain world, to any cabbie's troubles. / ‘I couldn't buy the lice off a sick cat,’ the cabbie answered from the very depths of self-deprecation. / ‘I wouldn't sell you one with lices,’ Sparrow assured him lightly. ‘I take the lices off 'n sell them sep'rate.’
    • In jail, Sparrow Saltskin and cabbie DeWitt.
  • He heard a girl's voice crying out a single question, she was being brought in off the street a full floor above him; but in a voice so agonized it seemed she spoke directly to himself: / ‘Ain't anybody on my side?’ [...] But no one, on the long streets above, off which both had been taken, cared one way or another. For up there each was the only one on his own side. Under one moon or another, he knew not one man on the side of men.
    • In jail, Sparrow Saltskin.
  • Standing on the open street with the empty in his hand, he hesitated to go to the left or to the right for the refund. It wasn't that he needed the dime that badly – though he knew he was going to need every dime he could trap soon – but rather that it just didn't seem right to be hunted by the police with a half-gallon empty in his hand. [...] / For what Frankie sought, in that hesitating moment, was the place that would return him a refund on his very life, fleeing headlong, down back street and alley, so fast and so far he didn't know whether he'd ever recapture it again.
    • Frankie Machine going on the lam, January 1948.
  • The captain felt impaled. It had been a bit too long since he had laughed. Felt joy or sorrow or simple wonder. [...] / An iron heart, an iron life. Laughter and tears had corroded in his breast. In the whitish light of the query room a tic took a corner of his mouth and his lips worked trying to stop it, like a drunk trying to work off a fly.
    • Captain Bednar.
  • What did it mean that all the guilty felt so certain of their own innocence while he felt so uncertain of his own? It was patently wrong that men locked up by the law should laugh while the man who locked them there no longer felt able even to cry. As if those caged there had learned secretly that all men are innocent in a way no captain might ever understand.
    • Captain Bednar.
  • ‘If there ain't nothin' in the papers about it,’ Molly told him, ‘it just means they're keepin' it out so you'll get careless 'n walk into the chair for them.’ / Frankie sounded hurt. ‘There ain't no chair about it, Molly-O. It's manslaughter is all. Happens every day of the week.’ / ‘It must be nice not to have to worry about a little thing like doin' one to twenty then,’ she feigned admiration of anyone so lucky. / He grinned wryly. ‘Don't forget that good-conduct time. I may get out in sixteen.’ / ‘You couldn't behave yourself that long if they handcuffed you to the warden.’ / Of course Molly-O was right, she had that way of knowing what was wisest and best for Frankie; it was only for herself she couldn't tell what was wisest.
    • Molly Novotny and Frankie Machine.
  • ‘I slugged him.’ The toughness was still in the grin if not in the biceps, the arms making a loose, outswinging gesture which she took to mean he'd first tried shoving that certain guy off. ‘Then his neck made a sort of dead sound 'n I knew that was it. [...] It's all in the wrists,’ he told her thinly, ‘I used to have the touch.’
    • Frankie Machine to Molly Novotny, about killing Louie Fomorowski. (Contrast with his recurrent boast, "It's all in the wrist 'n I got the touch".)
  • Sitting with one arm across the open window while the city rocked along below, he wiped sweat off his forehead with his cap and felt the sweat clear down to his socks. ‘I only hope they don't go too tough on Molly-O,’ and felt the old pang of conscience: something happened to everyone, it seemed, who came too close to the man with the golden arm.
    • Frankie Machine.
  • She looked at them both then, with such seeming trust, that something of pity stirred beneath the white-starched hospital jackets. For they saw a child's face, puffed by some muted suffering she could never tell. The face she had rouged, from the nurse's compact, so it was that of a child painted to look like a clown's. / And the eyes so dark and buttoned so tightly. So pinched by that private, midnight-colored grief.
    • Sophie Machine with a mental-ward doctor and nurse.

Quotes about The Man with the Golden Arm[edit]

  • Great qualities of insight into people, a heart of pity, a gift of cadence and song, and often when you near heartbreak he throws in comic relief. The interwoven police, politicians, gamblers and thieves, fixers and hustlers, the jargons of the night-clubs and prisons, these are here in The Man with the Golden Arm. Algren makes his living grotesques so terribly human that their faces, voices, shames, follies and deaths, can linger in your mind with a strange midnight dignity.
    • Carl Sandburg, back cover of the 1961 Ace Books edition of The Man with the Golden Arm.
  • As with all good poets, the guy is a prophet. / It was no accident that he wrote The Man with the Golden Arm so many centuries before posh suburban high schools fretted about junkies in their blue-eyed midst. The fate of Frankie Machine presaged adolescent hells to come.
    • Studs Terkel, 1973; as "Glasses", in Talking to Myself, 1973; as "Glasses", Seven Stories' print edition of The Man with the Golden Arm, 1999; edited as "Seriously funny", The Guardian, January 1, 2005; as "Afterword: Glasses", Canongate's edition of The Man with the Golden Arm, print 2005, digital 2009.
  • I said that Algren was bitter about how little he had been paid over the years for such important work, and especially for the movie rights to what may be his masterpiece, The Man with the Golden Arm, which made huge amounts of money as a Frank Sinatra film. Not a scrap of the profits had come to him, and I heard him say one time, ‘I am the penny whistle of American literature.’
    • Kurt Vonnegut, 1986; as "Introduction: Algren as I Knew Him", Seven's Stories' print edition of Never Come Morning, 1987; as "Algren as I Knew Him", Seven Stories' print edition of The Man with the Golden Arm, 1999; edited as "Funny side of the street", The Guardian, January 1, 2005; as "Foreword: Algren as I knew him", Canongate's edition of The Man with the Golden Arm, print 2005, digital 2009.
  • It shouldn't surprise me that Nelson Algren, clearly one of the best novelists of his time, is not much read these days. It's the "kill the messenger" syndrome, I suppose, for the news that Algren's works brings us is not good news: if the world he describes is at all like our own, then it's not morning in America, and it hasn't been for a long, long time. [...] In The Man With the Golden Arm, it's Chicago's back alleys and mean streets in the 1940's, derelicts and dopers, bitter castaways and undeserving castoffs.
  • If Golden Arm had a purpose, it was to challenge the idea, then congealing into ideology, that an individual's social value is related to his or her wealth. Its message is that lives lived in the twilight hours, after swing shifts, in the shadows of newly erected towers, or beneath the tracks of the El, are as passionate, as meaningful, as funny and pointless, and as much a part of the American story as any. [...] In earlier books, Algren's criminals were proud, angry, dangerous young people. Now they are older, and know they are a threat to no one but themselves. They don't have words to name the ways their world has changed, and in place of rage they have self-pity.
  • For my money, no book more elegantly describes the world of men and women whom the boom years were designed to pass by. [...] in 1949 Algren was nearly alone in reminding the country that having an upper class requires having a lower class. For the skill and elegance of its prose, its compassion, and its prescience, I'd rank Golden Arm among the very best books written in the twentieth century. Before Algren's fall from favor and the onset of his obscurity, many people agreed with that assessment. The book received glowing reviews from Time, the New York Times Book Review, the Chicago Sun-Times and Tribune, even the New Yorker.

External links[edit]