Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara: Summary & Analysis

Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara: Summary & Analysis
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  • 0:00 ''Appointment in Samarra''
  • 0:31 Characters & Setting
  • 1:24 Plot Summary
  • 4:39 Analysis
  • 5:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer has a dual master's in English literature/teaching and is currently a high school English teacher. She teaches college classes on the side.

Fate brings us all to the same place, but how we get there defines who we are. In this summary of 'Appointment in Samarra', we'll explore the tragic downfall of Julian English and the choices that lead him to the grave.

Appointment in Samarra

There is a folktale called the Appointment in Samarra that acts as a reminder that no one can escape death. The novel Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara represents the same message, but here, death comes in the form of a choice. This is the story of 30-year-old Julian English, a well-to-do man in the 1930s who has a beautiful wife named Caroline, high social status, and good job, but this life is not enough for him.

Characters & Setting

As the novel opens, Luther Fliegler wakes up on Christmas morning with his wife, Irma, and his kids. Lute, as they call him, lives on the exclusive Lantenengo Street but isn't in with the elite Lantenengo Country Club crowd that Julian runs with. Lute works for Julian, who owns the financially troubled Cadillac-Motor Car Company in their small town of Gibbsvillle, PA. Through the narrator, we also learn about a man named Ed Charney, head of the local mob; his crony, Al Grecco; and Harry Reilly, a wealthy Irishman who recently lent Julian money.

Appointment in Samarra takes place during the last three days of Julian's life with flashbacks embedded in the plot to give the reader a deeper understanding of Julian's descent into madness. Let's take a look at a summary of Appointment in Samarra and see why Julian decides to schedule his final appointment with death.

Plot Summary

December 24th

At the Latenengo Country Club Christmas Eve party, Julian gets drunk and throws a drink in Harry's face because he is sick of Harry's stories. Julian reflects on his actions, but he can't understand why everyone is so upset. Caroline is furious, knowing Julian's drunken behavior will be the talk of the town.

December 25th

On Christmas morning, Caroline tells Julian his actions will have consequences, but Julian seems unable to comprehend the severity of his behavior. However, he does promise Caroline he won't drink at the upcoming Christmas party.

At the party, Julian begins to realize that people are staring at and avoiding him. It seems some of them have taken Julian's actions from the night before as a slight against the Catholic Church because Harry is an Irish Catholic. As the night goes on, Julian breaks his promises to Caroline and gets blackout drunk.

Julian asks Caroline to come to the car with him to fool around, but Caroline is not having it. At the end of this section, we are left with Julian standing alone in the cold, pondering their relationship. Julian questions his actions over the past 24 hours and wonders what people really think of him.

As the night progresses, Julian, Caroline, and their friend leave the Lantenengo Country Club and go to the Stage Coach, where the Flieglers are having their Christmas party. Al Grecco is also there, charged with the task of making sure Ed Charney's mistress, Helene, does not get herself into any drunken trouble. Julian is warned to stay away from Helene, but this warning is not taken seriously, and the two of them end up in a vacant car, where Julian passes out.

December 26th

The next morning, Julian wakes up alone and is reminded by his maid that he is throwing a Christmas party that night at his house. He gets ready for the day and tries to apologize to Harry for a second time, but Harry rushes past him to catch a train.

Julian heads to the dealership. Upon his arrival, Lute speaks frankly with Julian about his recent behavior. After Lute leaves the office, Julian reflects. He goes into the bathroom and sticks a gun in his mouth, only to realize that he does not want to die this way.

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