The Short Story "On Saturday Afternoon" (Alan Sillitoe)

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2000

11 Pages, Grade: 1,7 (A-)



1 Introduction

2 Interpretation
2.1 The setting of the story
2.2 The Points of view and their implications
2.3 Levels of Narration
2.4 The social system and the main character
2.4.1 The „Haves“ and the „Have Nots“
2.5 The black moods and the concepts of aggression
2.6 Sillitoes Life and Background
2.6.1 His Works

3 Conclusion

4 References
4.1 Primary Sources
4.2 Secondary Sources

1 Introduction

The Short Story „On Saturday Afternoon“ by Alan Sillitoe is a highly complex piece of literature. It does not merely represent the description of the experiences the narrator has made on one Saturday afternoon but it contains far more: It implies information about the social system the speaker lives in, his family background and his psychology. It would therefore not be very appropriate to make use of only one of the approaches that have so far been developed in order to interpret literature. Thus, in the case of this story it is not the question whether the reader “should” relate the author’s biography to the text, consider its intertextuality or try to interpret the text on the basis of its words alone[1]. For some stories it may be possible to pose and answer this question clearly, but with respect to „On Saturday Afternoon“ it is not. Here a „mixture“ of different methods offers the best access to the text because it covers more aspects of the story than one single approach does. Consequently, in this term paper I am going to deal with the Short Story “On Saturday Afternoon” by Alan Sillitoe considering the following aspects: The contents of the story, its inner structure and its relation to Sillitoe´s biography and some of his other works. In doing so I am aware of the fact that it is necessary and inevitable only to focus on certain aspects of the approaches - as the scope of this term paper is restricted- and therefore it is impossible to develop an interpretation which covers every aspect each one of these methods offers. Nevertheless I am convinced that the way I have chosen gains by the interplay of the accesses what it lacks from completeness.

2 Interpretation

2.1 The setting of the story

The Short Story “On Saturday Afternoon” takes place in an industrial area in England (probably somewhere near Nottingham[2] ). It is about the experiences of a young boy who has not gone to the pictures because he has “for some reason been left out of it“ (Sillitoe 1959, 103) and - instead of watching a movie- observes a young man who tries to kill himself.

As the plot develops the reader gets to know that poverty[3] and pollution[4], two characteristics deriving from the setting of the story, are responsible for the black moods all the characters have to face, and thus describe the atmosphere. Nevertheless the narrator does not only inform the reader about the atmosphere of the story but also about the social system in which the story takes place - and it is quite important to note from which point of view he does so.

2.2 The Points of view and their implications

Presupposing the readers´ sympathy[5], the boy describes his observations in a humorous[6] and sarcastic way that sometimes also tends to be ironic. Even though the introductory phrase of the story “I once saw a real bloke try to kill himself” (Sillitoe, 1959, 103) evokes the impression that the following story merely describes an observation, the development of the plot proves that this expectation is wrong: Reporting about his observations and experiences the main thing the narrator talks about is he himself, his family and the world he lives in. Even when he pretends to give descriptions of events, these never step back into the background but remain the subject. It is quite interesting to analyse how this is done because the narrator takes two perspectives.

On the one hand the narrator takes the retrospective point of view of a sixteen year old boy who reports about something that has happened to him five years ago. On the other hand he sometimes also writes as the eleven year old boy he once was. It is therefore possible to distinguish between two points of view and between two “stories“: There is the “inner story“ which is told by the eleven year old boy, and the “framework story“ the sixteen year old boy presents . As the Short Story mainly contains observations it is the inner story which is dominant in length while the framework story reveals more about the character of the speaker.

I will come back to this fact concerning the concepts of aggression and also make use of another observation which should be mentioned here: Even though the narrator tries to evoke the impression that he is a round character who is quite clever[7], there are implications in the story which neither of the two perspectives accounts of. Accordingly the reader is not supposed to share one of these limited perspectives but to assume that there is (at least) a third one. Nevertheless the “final point of view“ is not explicitly represented in the story but can be read between the lines.

2.3 Levels of Narration

The main character of story is also the narrator and it should be discussed to whom he addresses it. Taking into account that he considers his experiences as exchange material it becomes clear that the addressees of his story are his mates. He will tell them about the suicide and they- in reverse- will inform him about what happened in the “Jungle Jim serial” (Sillitoe, 1959, 108). His intention becomes more obvious focussing on the way he presents himself because he tries to appear clever, smart and superior to the policeman as well as to the man who tries to kill himself. - He certainly enjoys the idea that his mates cannot escape the impression that he really is like that.

But anyway, there is another level of narration: The author Alan Sillitoe tells this story to the reader and it must also be questioned what his intentions were or at least what they could have been. I will come back to this second level of narration in the conclusion of this paper. Still it should be mentioned here that the story is obviously addressed to the working class and probably also to the middle class because only if both classes read the story and realise its importance the situation which is described in the story can be changed.


[1] This enumeration does not claim to be complete.

[2] Cf.: “as if I was playing centre-forward for Notts Forest“ (Sillitoe 1996, 111).

[3] Cf.: “...and looked as though he hadn’t had a square meal for a year” (Sillitoe, 1959, 106).

[4] Cf.: “But outside the air wasn’t so fresh with that bloody great bike factory bashing away at the yard end“ (Sillitoe, 1959, 106).

[5] CF.:“I was only a kid at that time, so you can imagine how much I enjoyed it” (Sillitoe, 1959, 103).

[6] Cf.: “... as though he’d done it a time or two already, and people had usually asked him questions like this beforehand“ (Sillitoe, 1959, 107)

[7] Cf.: “But I sit and think long enough...“ (Sillitoe, 1959, 105)

Excerpt out of 11 pages


The Short Story "On Saturday Afternoon" (Alan Sillitoe)
University of Hamburg  (Anglistics Seminar)
Seminar 1b
1,7 (A-)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
477 KB
Short, Story, Saturday, Afternoon, Sillitoe), Seminar
Quote paper
Hanno Frey (Author), 2000, The Short Story "On Saturday Afternoon" (Alan Sillitoe), Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • guest on 2/16/2017

    good work

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