On the Sidewalk Bleeding: Summary & Themes

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  • 0:03 On the Sidewalk…
  • 2:40 Theme: Social Responsibility
  • 4:12 Theme: Identity
  • 5:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lindsey Coley
This is a summary of Evan Hunter's 1956 short story ''On the Sidewalk Bleeding'' as well as a detailed discussion of the main themes of social responsibility and identity that are found within.

''On the Sidewalk Bleeding'' Summary

''On the Sidewalk Bleeding'' is a short story written by Evan Hunter, also known as Ed McBain, in 1956. The story focuses on a 16-year-old young man named Andy and his last moments after being stabbed by a rival gang member in an alley. The details come sharp and fast in third person omniscient narrative, which is where the narrator is omniscient, or God-like, in that they can go in and out of the character's thoughts and describe everything in a scene.

The omniscient narrator tells us that, though he's bleeding in a rain-filled alley, Andy does not yet know he is going to die tonight, but that he will. The reader is updated throughout the story as Andy slowly comes to the realization that he may die, and then that he certainly will die, in this dark alley.

While he is lying there, unable to speak through the blood in his throat, Andy thinks about his girl, Laura, and what she must be thinking about him not returning to the dance, and about how much he loves her. He thinks about his identity as a Royals gang member and how wearing his Royals jacket has gotten him stabbed. Andy wonders whether he was stabbed as Andy, or ''had they simply known that he was Royal wearing a purple silk jacket.'' He comes to the awful and dark realization that he's more Andy than a Royal, and it is a horrible conclusion that he must die for the symbol of the jacket.

There are three separate incidences of people arriving to the scene who may get him to safety where he can be treated for his knife wound, but to no avail. The first is a drunk who assumes Andy to be another drunk laid flat out and, after a brief one-sided conversation, decides to leave Andy in the alley without help, assuming it to be better that Andy doesn't have a ''cop fin' you all drunk an' wet in an alley.'' He tells him that ''this time you got off easy,'' which is a terrible irony based on Andy's current condition.

The second incidence shows a young couple arriving upon the scene of Andy dying and choosing not to help him for fear of the Guardians, a rival gang. This is the moment that Andy really starts to reflect upon being Andy and not defined by his jacket or his gang. It is a devastating idea that this young man will die due to a symbol.

The third incidence is an old woman who appears to be homeless and dumpster diving, who simply does not see Andy bleeding to death on the sidewalk under the darkness and the rain. The story ends with Laura seeking and finding him help after it is too late. Only 48 minutes after the scene begins, it ends. The cop that arrives at Laura's bequest does not begin with listing Andy's name, but instead by writing on a notepad ''A Royal.''

Theme: Social Responsibility

One of the main themes in ''On the Sidewalk Bleeding'' is social responsibility. This is the idea that society, or a community as a whole, should be held accountable to the individuals in it. To some level, everyone is socially responsible. Some believe they should know every book on their neighbor's shelves, and others believe they should only get involved in scenarios that enter their personal space. This is where one might look the other way if they heard a couple arguing in a house but get involved if they saw a physical altercation taking place in a public street. That draw to get involved is a feeling of social responsibility.

In our story, a young man is bleeding out and we see at least two clear incidents of possible saviors for him. One, the drunk, doesn't realize the truth of the situation, and so he's removed from the social responsibility in the reader's eyes. He is just an unfortunate tease for Andy.

The second incident, though, with the young couple, Freddie and Angela, is entirely different. They clearly recognize the gravity of Andy's injuries and make a clear choice to remove themselves from the scene and any social responsibility they may feel. They do seem to feel some, since there's hesitation when Freddie kneels by Andy's side to see how he is, but when they realize he's a Royal, their fear of the rival gang and ideas of their own self-preservation keep them from giving him any aid.

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