Saturday night and Sunday morning is the first novel written by Alan Sillitoe and published in 1958.
The title of the novel is not a mere reference to physical time, for it suggests a traced path towards redemption and it conveys the two opposing ideas of enjoyment and responsibility. The novel aims to demonstrate the radical change of the main character, Arthur Seaton, from an apparently everlasting Saturday night to a milder and more reflective Sunday morning. The novel itself is divided into two parts: the first part is a detailed description of the nature of his work at the Nottingham bicycle factory and his adulterous affairs with Brenda and her younger sister Winnie; in the second short part, Arthur’s transition and drift into adulthood can be observed. The shift towards normalcy is induced by some regularizing facts and rites of passage such as age, a beating, settling down and Christmas.
At the beginning of the novel, the young Teddy boy Arthur Seaton, has a rebellious and reckless attitude towards sex, drinking, gambling and smoking; he also lacks of guilt and responsibility. He asserts his toughness at the beginning of the novel in a drinking competition with a sailor at the White Horse Club. Arthur is after any kind of pleasure no matter what the consequences are, and he spends his money hedonistically. He represents a strong form of masculinity, feeling invincible to the traps of social norms and raging blindly against the authority, the establishment and moral values. ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down’ is his personal motto, which reflects his political and moral rebellion. Moreover, he spends his weekends sleeping with Brenda and Winnie, two married women both willing participants in the affairs.
As a result of these extramarital relationships, Arthur is beaten by Winnie’s husband, Bill, and one of his friends; therefore, the first part of the novel seems to end with Arthur’s symbolic death and the physical beating he endures might be read as a crucial turning point in his approach to life. Afterwards, he meets a new young woman, Doreen, and he finds himself ‘hooked’ by her; she is only 19 but she has a very mature attitude and she establishes a parity in their relation, both emotionally and materially. ‘The safe and rosy path with Doreen’ represents the ‘Sunday morning’ and the opportunity for Arthur to make a change in his life, from a reckless young teddy boy to a socially adapted man. Their relationship becomes official and he starts consciously walking into a ‘spider’s web’. The juxtaposition of the two married women – Brenda and Winnie – and the young single woman – Doreen – produces the contrast of the choices he will make in his life, another clear reference to the dichotomy of the title. At the end of the novel, Arthur’s rebellion has been almost completely replaced by resignation. The book ends with the prospect of marriage and settling down, which may be interpreted as a form of compromise with the system.
The research made for this article, has brought to the conclusion that by the end of the novel Arthur is led towards a more reflective and resigned dimension. Saturday night represented ‘the best and bingiest glad-time of the week […] one of the 52 holidays in the slow-turning Big Wheel of the year’, the only moment of relaxation, pure pleasure and drunkenness. Sunday morning is, on the other hand, a moment of redemption and rest, also connected to religious duty and obligation. Therefore, it can be argued that the dichotomy of the title is a clear reflection of the moral and behavioural change of the main character.