Places: All Fall Down

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1960

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Bildungsroman

Time of work: Late 1950’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedWilliams family home

Williams All Fall Downfamily home. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, the family home, in its moods and changing states of cohesion, reflects the periods of alienation, dislocation, and close community experienced by its occupants and, in a larger sense, by the American family. The first two sentences of the novel read, “It is well known that in every neighborhood in the United States there is at least one house that is special. Special because it is haunted, or because of an act of violence that took place there.” The levels of the house and those who dominate them are Freudian in nature.

Casual in his relations with others, Ralph Williams, the father–an intellectual, anarchist, atheist, and entrepreneur–occupies the basement, as he does his drinking, doing jigsaw puzzles, and avoiding the world within and without the house. The mother, Annabel, remains on the main floor, a kind of mitigating super ego; she is domestic, worried about her children, cut off from love and her favorite son, Berry-berry, who wanders from home and remains a mythic presence that shadows everyone in the house. Clinton, a younger son, cut off from the comfort of the Old Neighborhood, ventures into the streets of the New Neighborhood, absorbing life, visiting drugstores, a magazine store, a chili place, working at the White Tower restaurant, surrounded and alone, a rebel without a cause, retreating to his bedroom, a realm of consciousness, to contemplate and write down conversations and phone calls, undertaking furtive forays through the house to poke through correspondences or eavesdrop outside or through air vents.


*Cleveland. Ohio’s largest city is depicted as dull, unresponsive, and smothering. The promise of magic exists beyond its bounds where Berry-berry has flown. Only with the arrival of the lovely Echo O’Brien do the Williamses come alive, and both their house and Cleveland transform into sparkling representations of the joy and love she offers so freely.

Key Bonita

Key Bonita. Fictional Florida port town to which Clinton travels by bus in order to team up with Berry-berry, in trouble for stabbing a woman. The journey takes on mythic proportions, an acceptance of the call and the descent into the underworld. Berry-berry is long gone, but in the midst of this seamy town, Clinton loses his virginity to a prostitute in a moment of precious innocence that emblemizes the kindness and compassion he will give to and receive from others. Even in the midst of (indeed, in spite of) depravity, dishonesty, and disillusion, innocence can survive and spread beauty, Herlihy suggests, even to the point where the police, the hookers, and the toughs respond to the boy in ways that compel them to connect with their own humanity.


*Toledo. Ohio city, which like Cleveland to the east, stands on Lake Erie. As the home of Echo O’Brien and her ailing mother in this novel, it is a setting of sickness and, ultimately, death. Toledo blooms forth Echo, a short-lived rose who dies on the road, returning there after being forsaken by Berry-berry. Beneath its deceptively benign exterior, Toledo, like Cleveland and all other “respectable” cities, harbors the beast of betrayal and tragedy.

Apple Mountain farm

Apple Mountain farm. Ohio location in which Berry-berry establishes a brothel; however, but his ensuing apparent conversion to stability is mirrored in the change of the farm from a house of prostitution to a respectable plumbing business. However, there remains a foulness there, symbolized by the cash and gun hidden in a hollowed-out phone directory and Berry-berry’s violent sexual liaisons with his partner’s girlfriend. Clinton goes to Apple Mountain to kill Berry-berry for what he has done to Echo, and in this place where innocent Nature and corrupt society have been fused, he finally realizes that he is not like Berry-berry, that he is on this earth to love, not to use.

BibliographyHicks, Granville. “Within the Shadow of Winesburg.” Saturday Review 43 (August 6, 1960): 14. Compares Herlihy to his “literary ancestor” Sherwood Anderson, who drew his material from grotesques and social misfits. Mentions other Anderson followers, such as John Steinbeck, William Saroyan, and Erskine Caldwell.Levin, Martin. “Young Man on the Lam.” New York Times Book Review, August 21, 1960, 30. Complimentary and influential review of All Fall Down. Compares it to a Tennessee Williams play with its mixture of “incest, infantile regression, impotence and sadism overlaid with quaintness.”“Odd but Human.” Time, August 15, 1960, 76. Compares Clinton Williams to J. D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield. Defines theme of All Fall Down as the universal need for love. Asserts that the characters are odd, but important because of their kinship with humanity.Pratley, Gerald. The Cinema of John Frankenheimer. New York: A. S. Barnes, 1969. Chapter 6 of this study of the filmmaker who directed the 1962 film adaptation of All Fall Down presents John Frankenheimer’s interpretation of the story and his analysis of the characters’ motivations.Quirk, Lawrence J. The Films of Warren Beatty. Secaucus, N. J.: Citadel Press, 1979. Contains an analysis of the 1962 screen adaptation of All Fall Down. Screenplay was written by William Inge; cast included Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint, Brandon De Wilde, and Angela Lansbury. Illustrated.
Categories: Places