Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

A man's attempts to escape death only bring him closer to his inevitable fate.


In this book summary, we will delve into the classic novel "Appointment in Samarra" written by John O'Hara. First published in 1934, this compelling work of fiction explores themes of death, destiny, and the human condition in the American society of the early 20th century. The book's title is derived from an ancient Mesopotamian tale, emphasizing the inevitability of fate. Through vivid storytelling and complex character development, O'Hara weaves a narrative that captivates readers and offers profound insights into the human experience.

Brief Synopsis

The story is set in the fictional town of Gibbsville, Pennsylvania, during the tumultuous years leading up to World War II. It unfolds over the course of three days, showcasing the tragic downfall of the main character, Julian English.

Julian, a wealthy and charismatic socialite in his thirties, becomes consumed by a sense of self-destruction. His self-destructive behavior begins when he attends a New Year's Eve party at the Lantenengo Country Club, where he witnesses his wife, Caroline, engaging in a flirtatious conversation with Harry Reilly, a member of the town's elite.

Enraged by jealousy, Julian abruptly leaves the party and embarks upon a downward spiral of impulsive decisions and irrational acts. His actions ultimately reveal the fragility of social status, exposing the veneer of respectability that masks the darker tendencies lurking beneath the surface.

Main Events

Julian witnesses his wife's flirtation at the partyThis sets in motion the chain of events leading to his downfall
Julian's confrontation with Harry ReillyJulian's anger and impulsiveness are on full display
Julian's strained relationship with his wifeCaroline is caught in the middle of Julian's destructive behavior
Julian's encounters with various socialites and outcastsThese encounters highlight the stark contrasts within Gibbsville's society
The climactic car accidentJulian's ultimate demise

Main Characters

Here are the key characters in "Appointment in Samarra":

  1. Julian English: The protagonist and tragic hero, Julian is a charming and self-destructive socialite. He grapples with his own demons as he spirals into a world of reckless behavior.
  2. Caroline English: Julian's wife is a refined and respected member of Gibbsville's upper-class society. She is torn between her loyalty to Julian and her desire for personal happiness.
  3. Harry Reilly: A successful businessman and member of Gibbsville's elite, Harry's flirtation with Caroline sets off a chain of events that contribute to Julian's downfall.
  4. Irma Fliegler: Julian's mistress, Irma is a working-class woman who symbolizes the allure of a world outside of Julian's social circle.
  5. Lute Fliegler: Irma's husband, Lute represents the lower class and serves as a juxtaposition to Julian's privileged background.

Themes and Insights

The Fragility of Social Status

One of the central themes in "Appointment in Samarra" is the fragility of social status. Julian's social standing and reputation are highly valued within Gibbsville's elite circles. However, once his self-destructive behavior is revealed, he quickly becomes an outcast. Through the character of Julian, O'Hara explores how an individual's position in society can be easily toppled by a single misstep.

The Inevitability of Fate

The title of the novel, "Appointment in Samarra," alludes to the ancient tale about a merchant who tries to escape death in Samarra but ultimately meets his fate. O'Hara uses this concept to underscore the idea that one cannot escape their destiny. Julian's impulsive actions only serve to hasten his tragic downfall, reinforcing the notion that fate is inescapable.

The Illusion of Control

Throughout the novel, O'Hara challenges the idea that individuals have complete control over their lives. Julian's attempts to reclaim his sense of control through his impulsive actions ultimately lead to his demise. O'Hara suggests that, despite our best efforts, certain events and circumstances are beyond our control and can shape our lives in unexpected ways.

Reader's Takeaway

"Appointment in Samarra" is a compelling and thought-provoking novel that delves into the complexities of human nature and the constant struggle between fate and free will. John O'Hara's rich storytelling and nuanced characterization allow readers to empathize with Julian English as he grapples with the consequences of his choices. This timeless novel serves as a stark reminder that our actions have consequences and that we must confront our own demons if we wish to find redemption.


In "Appointment in Samarra," John O'Hara invites readers on a journey through the tumultuous world of Gibbsville, where the veneer of respectability often masks deeper flaws and the pursuit of social status can be both alluring and destructive. Through compelling storytelling and profound themes, O'Hara explores the human condition and the inevitability of fate. This classic novel continues to resonate with readers, serving as a timeless reminder of the fragile nature of our lives and the consequences of our choices.

Appointment in Samarra FAQ

  1. What is 'Appointment in Samarra' about?

    Appointment in Samarra is a novel by John O'Hara that tells the story of Julian English, a wealthy and charismatic socialite in 1930s America. The book explores themes of self-destruction, societal pressures, and the consequences of one's actions.

  2. Who is the author of 'Appointment in Samarra'?

    The author of 'Appointment in Samarra' is John O'Hara.

  3. When was 'Appointment in Samarra' first published?

    'Appointment in Samarra' was first published in 1934.

  4. Is 'Appointment in Samarra' a true story?

    No, 'Appointment in Samarra' is a work of fiction.

  5. What genre does 'Appointment in Samarra' belong to?

    'Appointment in Samarra' is a literary fiction novel.

  6. Is 'Appointment in Samarra' suitable for young readers?

    Due to its mature themes and content, 'Appointment in Samarra' is more suitable for adult readers.

  7. Are there any movie adaptations of 'Appointment in Samarra'?

    As of now, there are no known movie adaptations of 'Appointment in Samarra'.