Places: A Walk on the Wild Side

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1956

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Picaresque

Time of work: 1930’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedArroyo

Arroyo. Walk on the Wild Side, ATown in southern Texas’s Rio Grande Valley where Dove begins his adventures. His father, Fitz Linkhorn, originally went there in the early twentieth century from Virginia. The valley orange trees scented the air and yielded an abundance of fruit each year. Cotton crops were equally bountiful, and oil was soon discovered in the area. Within a year, however, the oil dried up and the crops failed. As a result of these problems, Dove leaves on his travels, but at the end of the novel, he returns to Arroyo, blind, defeated, and no longer the innocent young man who originally left the place.

*Houston

*Houston. Large southeastern Texas city to which Dove first goes after leaving Arroyo. From there he moves from one hobo camp to another in the Rio Grande Valley, living with and learning from men who have been dispossessed of jobs and homes by the Depression. The starkness of the hobo camps educates Dove in the realities of the Depression-era world. In each “hobo jungle,” he learns a new lesson of life, just as traditional picaresque heroes always do.

*New Orleans

*New Orleans. Louisiana’s major city, where Dove arrives at the height of the Depression. As a city of the Old South, to which the Civil War and Reconstruction had already brought dire economic changes, New Orleans is a particularly impoverished place in the 1930’s. Nevertheless, its diverse shops, restaurants, and fascinating people make it appealing to Dove. The various neighborhoods in which he lives and works–mainly in the French Quarter and Perdido Street–are mostly slums, inhabited by poor whites and African Americans struggling to eke out meager existences doing whatever is required of them. Despite its problems, New Orleans is a place in which people have fun. For Dove, it is a place that always seems to be “rocking.”

Algren portrays New Orleans as place filled with corrupt businessmen and politicians. Not only is the corruption tolerated by politicians and the clergy, it is even encouraged by some of them. Houses of prostitution and other establishments that would be forbidden in other cities operate openly.

Dove takes on a variety of jobs: coffee salesman; door-to-door con man, condom maker, and salesman; Watkins Products salesman; and finally actor in a fake show in which he pretends to deflower “virgins” in a brothel. These jobs reflect the New Orleans of 1931 and its decayed, impoverished state at the time. They also reflect the standard elements of the picaresque novel in which innocent and ignorant protagonists learn about life from their difficult encounters in unusual places.

BibliographyAlgren, Nelson. Conversations with Nelson Algren. Interviews by H. E. F. Donohue. New York: Hill & Wang, 1964. A series of interviews in which Algren discusses his life and writings, including A Walk on the Wild Side.Bluestone, George. “Nelson Algren.” Western Review 22 (Autumn, 1957): 27-44. Bluestone was the first to identify Algren as not only a naturalistic writer but also one with broader themes than tragic realism. Discusses A Walk on the Wild Side.Cox, Martha Heasley, and Wayne Chatterton. Nelson Algren. Boston: Twayne, 1975. A book-length discussion of all of Algren’s work up to 1975, with a chapter on A Walk on the Wild Side. Contains a biography and bibliographies.Giles, James R. Confronting the Horror: The Novels of Nelson Algren. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1989. Discusses A Walk on the Wild Side as an example of absurdist comedy and notes the influence of Louis-Ferdinand Céline.Lipton, Lawrence. “A Voyeur’s View of the Wild Side: Nelson Algren and His Reviewers.” In Chicago Review Anthology, edited by David Ray. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Evaluates those who have commented on A Walk on the Wild Side and adds further critical comments.
Categories: Places