Saturday Afternoon by Erskine Caldwell

This study guide will help you analyze the text “Saturday Afternoon” by Erskine Caldwell. We will show you examples of elements in the text that will be relevant for your analysis. In these notes, we will focus on the summary, structure, characters, setting, narrator and point of view, language, theme and message.

Presentation of the text

Title: “Saturday Afternoon”
Author: Erskine Caldwell
Date of Publication: 1936
Genre: Short Story

Erskine Caldwell (1903-1987) was an American author of novels, short stories, non-fiction and biographical works. Caldwell became popular with his 1932 novel “Tobacco Road” which was adapted into a play shortly after its publication. Most of his work deals with social issues like poverty and racism and are set in the Southern United States where Caldwell was born and raised.


“Saturday Afternoon” by Erskine Caldwell starts with Tom Denny, who owns a butcher shop with Jim Baxter, and is taking a rest on the meat block during a Saturday afternoon. The butcher shop is filled with flies and rather unsanitary, but Tom does not seem to mind it very much.

As Tom sleeps, his partner comes barging in and wakes him up to go and chase an African-American named Will Maxie, who allegedly spoke something to a white woman. The two men join a crowd of other men in town with loaded guns and go to a creek near Will’s house. Up to that point, Will had always minded his own business, being respectful to the whites and growing cotton and corn on his land. However, the townsfolk envied him because he was making a lot of money.

The crowd is joined by the son of the drugstore owner, Doc Cromer, who is selling Coca-Colas to the men waiting for Will. As the African-American appears, the men tie him with chains to a tree and set him on fire. Eventually, they also shoot Will. After that, Tom and Jim hurry back to their butcher’s shop, because they are expecting to have a lot of clients buying meat for Sunday. Tom usually works as a butcher while his partner Jim is the cashier.


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A range of symbolical elements contributes to enhancing the story’s themes and messages and make it more appealing to the readership.

The Coca-Cola bottles are a symbol of consumerism and herd instinct. In the story, all the men drink it, and it is implied that ‘everybody likes it’, except for Will. Coca-Cola becomes symbolic of people following trends just because everybody else does it, out of conformity … 


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Saturday Afternoon by Erskine Caldwell

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