There have always been bullies, but it is only recently that the subject has received attention as a social problem that must be dealt with. In particular, there is the recent novel, Bully, as well as the movie that is based on it. However, for those who might want to consider the subject in a novel from another era, I recommend Studs Lonigan.
A lot of people might not even think of this as a novel about a bully. Certainly, the title character never thinks of himself in that way. But then, you will not hear many people say, “When I was young, I was a bully.” Oh, sure, one might admit to having been a bully on one or two occasions, for which one is ashamed. But we seldom encounter anyone who will characterize himself as a bully, as if it were his essence. And yet, we have scarcely reached the third page, when Studs refers to “goofy Danny O’Neill, the dippy punk who couldn’t be hurt or made cry, no matter how hard he was socked …,” with whom the author, James T. Farrell, identified.
The day never passes that Studs does not think about beating someone up, although it is something he thinks about more than he actually does. Studs does have his moment of greatness when he beats up Weary Reilley, who is an even worse bully than Studs. But throughout the novel, Studs finds plenty of glory in pushing others around who are smaller, weaker, or more timid than he is, especially when he and his pals outnumber their hapless victims.
One of my favorite parts of the novel occurs when a priest gives a passionate sermon attended by Studs and his gang. We hear Father Shannon warn against the evils of smoking, drinking, and necking. And for a brief moment, we allow ourselves to hope that he will admonish the young toughs about fighting. We don’t expect him to say they should turn the other cheek. That would be asking too much. But perhaps the priest will at least urge them not to be so quick to throw the first punch. It is not to be. In fact, Father Shannon tells them that if they catch some college atheist making a play for their sister, they should beat him up. Later, Studs and his gang are glad they have sisters, because beating someone up always feels better when you can be righteous about it.
At the end of the novel, Studs regrets the fact that he never kissed Lucy when they sat in that tree, that he dropped out of school instead of continuing his education, that he didn’t save his money, and that he ruined his health with all the smoking, drinking, and carousing around. But he never regrets that he was a bully.