Western Union Boy

Western Union Boy

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Western Union Boy

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"Western Union Boy" is a short story written by Nathanael West in the early 1930's; it was not published in West’s lifetime and appears only in the Library of America edition of his collected work: Novels & Other Writings.

Plot summary

The story deals with a certain type of people, not defined by occupation but by an added burden they carry:<blockquote>All Western Union boys do not deliver messages. Some of them are lawyers, writers and so forth. But all of them are busy doing something under their regular occupations, and it is this something that makes them “Western Union boys.” What they are doing is failing, mechanically, yet desperately and seriously, they are failing. The mechanical part of it is very important. West, Nathanael. Novels & Other Writings. Ed. Sacvan Bercovitch. New York: The Library of America, 1997. 425

Other characteristics of this specific group of people include eagerness, a desire to please and an awareness of their own failure, which at times leads them to laugh at themselves.The central incident of this story concerns F. Winslow, a middle-aged “Western Union boy” who feels that he has failed in life. The story ends with his drunken recollection of an early boyhood failure – a failure that haunts him still, in the form of recurring nightmares. As a boy he fumbled an easy fly ball at a crucial point in a baseball game, and as a result was chased off the field by his...
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