Saturday before they cooked and ate it…”

Saturday
Afternoon by Erskine Caldwell is a short story that conveys just how regular
racism and violence had become in a small southern town during the early 20th
century. In the short story, the author, Eskrine Caldwell, incorporates indirect
characterization, and a passive tone. These elements fused together to allow
the reader to experience just how ordinary violence was at this time.

The
characters that Caldwell creates for the story are pertinent to the story’s
setting and time. Readers can obtain a more in-depth assimilation of each
character reflective upon their actions and mannerisms. Throughout the piece, Tom
Denny’s inner characterization is built through his attitudes, motives, and
actions. In Tom’s everyday life, he comes across as rather careless. As the
town’s butcher, he sleeps on the meat and produce he sells to his neighbors. “The tobacco juice splattered on the floor
midway between the meat block and cigar box. What little of it dripped on the
piece of rump steak did not matter: most people cleaned their meat before they
cooked and ate it…” Like other civilians, Tom was a white male in the working
class, whom despite his exhaustion, wanted to please everybody. Caldwell does a
fine job of painting a normal day in the life of Tom Denny. “All the town
people who had wanted some of Tom’s meat for Saturday dinner had already got
what they needed, and it was too early in the day to buy Sunday meat.” The
readers can see Tom’s daily routine and understand the role he played in his
community and the relationships it has built. Another flat character the
readers are introduced to is Will Maxie. Will Maxie, much like Tom, was a
civilian in the town whom many knew to be successful. Caldwell lays down a
series of characteristics that are connected to both Tom and Will. Will was the
best at his profession, and many could have benefited from his skill, but they
grew envious and decided to hate him instead. “…Will was a pretty smart
Negro….But nobody liked Will…He made more money than Tom and Jim made in the
butcher shop selling people meat.” This quiet Saturday afternoon Caldwell
illustrates for his readers abruptly converts into an uprising hate crime. The
reader is snapped into the action just as “…Jim ran in the back door and
grabbed Tom by the shoulders.”

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As
the audience is walked through the day in the life of Tom Denny, there is a
relationship established between them. Caldwell creates a routine employing
repetition and emphasizing the certain minute actions such as Tom swatting a
fly out of his face. These subtle actions, which typically can be overlooked,
portray how ordinary the day was. This particular Saturday afternoon begins
quite monotonous, and the lack of events almost extracts a feeling of empathy.
As soon as the readers are comfortable with Tom, Caldwell begins another
journey that scars the mental image they have developed of him. It is an
incredible feature how Caldwell can instantly flip the mind of his readers just
as quickly as Tom’s day turned around.

For
the readers, the mob of blood-thirsty white men is appalling. Jealous white men
are out to make an event of publicly assassinating a man, and the readers can
only anticipate the role their character, Tom, will play in it. It is best that
the story is told from a third party, because of everyone’s role, no matter how
big or small, seems to be important to the cause. The young boy going around
selling Coke’s for his father, only highlights how normal these events were.
“There is nothing better to drink on a hot day if the dopes are nice and cool.”
A man felt that it was safe enough to have his child out selling items to a
large group of angry men killing an innocent man on a Saturday afternoon.
Caldwell takes advantage of this role and inserts his own beliefs of learned
racism and hate through the minor role of a young boy. The violence taking
place in this town was just that normal.

Caldwell
does a great job of fulfilling a wholesome setting and mood throughout the
story by simply describing each characters’ actions and the fitting the minor
actions into the current lynching. The story ends by coming back full circle,
and the readers and the characters end right back where they would be on any
other day as if nothing important is happening, such as a man being beaten and
hung. “Everything’s slick as a whistle…except my old woman’s got the chills and
fever pretty bad again.” All of which features that Caldwell uses an instrument
that depicts just how nonchalant violence was during this period.

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