How Late It Was, How Late

by reirei1

How Late It Was, How Late

By Rei Tamori

James Kelman is the author who wrote about Sammy, a blue collar Scotsman, who has found himself blind in a jail cell after foolishly initiating a fight with a group of policemen in the violently charming story called, “How Late It Was, How Late”. Sammy is released from jail where he was just brutally beaten by the policemen whom he calls the “sodjers” (in his Scottish accent) and who were partly responsible for his blindness, and begins his journey to sort himself out in regards to his missing girlfriend, lack of cash, compromised relationship with the police, and inconvenient loss of eye sight. Through his journey of self-improvement, Sammy must cope with several unusual obstacles that most people would never run into.

As we read about these obsticles, a difficult question arises-do we like Sammy?It is hard to determine if he is simply a good person with a soul worthy of going to heaven or just another insignificant hapless criminal. How can we not judge him as an insensitive, unruly, trouble-making and good-for-nothing type of man? Granted, he is an ex-con, a shoplifter, a smoker and a drinker. He started a fight with policemen, lives pay check to pay check, does not have his own place(he lives in his girlfriend’s apartment) and frequently cusses. However, we cannot help but feel admiration towards Sammy. One would assume that a person like him is selfish, lazy and therefore, weak. But given his new disability, we are able to discover that he is quite the opposite of weak as we accompany him through his struggles with the day-to-day tasks that he is forced to endure as a blind man-he is undoubtedly strong.

Sammy refuses to let time be wasted by waiting for someone to help him. He knows that he must help himself. He has an immense will to carry on. Already in the beginning of the story the narrator introduces us to Sammy as a “survivor man”: “Ye’ve been blind. Ye’ve coped but ye’ve fucking coped I mean that was something about Sammy[…] a lot of cunts would have done their box bad. But he hadnay. He had survived it. He was sane.” The narrator shows us that Sammy believes how the difficulties in life should be dealt with when he says, “What can ye do but. Except start again so he started again. That was what he did, he started again. It’s a game but so it is man life, fucking life I’m talking about, that’s all ye can do man, start again, turn ower a new leaf, a fresh start, another yin, ye just plough on, ye plough on, ye just fucking plough on[…] that was what Sammy did.”The phrases, “Push on, push ahead and plough on” repeated throughout the story are reminders of how badly Sammy wants to get on with his life, and of his determination to get out of the struggle of being blind and treat it as if it were not a drawback, but rather just another part of daily life.

Another reason why Sammy is so strong is that he is aware of his weaknesses, just as is said by the narrator in the book: “One thing about Sammy he knew his strengths. That was cause he knew his weaknesses.” He knows his weaknesses and he knows his circumstances. He knows that he is broke, and that he has to be strong enough to do something about it, regardless of the physical pains caused by the police beatings: “Going to bed’s the easy option, trying to sleep away the shit[…]but it’s no as if ye’ve got the flu; when ye’re skint man don’t mix it up with the fucking flu.”

This story is one that is entertaining to readers with its wit and Scottish charm, yet may force them to resent the protagonist, Sammy, and end up disliking the book altogether. But perhaps most readers will end up liking Sammy, for his determination and will to “fucking push ahead” is a facet of his personality that would endear him to many.


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