One Arm


“One Arm” recounts the tragic story of Oliver Winemiller, a young boxer and former sailor who has lost one of his arms in an accident. After his injury, Winemiller turned to hustling—traveling from city to city up and down the Eastern Seaboard, trading money for sex. The story opens in 1939, in New Orleans, where Winemiller is standing on a cold Canal Street corner, plying his trade. The narrative follows him from there to New York City to Miami and back to New Orleans, where he is arrested on charges of murder. The original story is just 23 pages long—including one page that features a rough drawing of an electric chair. The story subtly explores trauma, poverty, religion, cross-class intimacy, punishment, and redemption. But in the end, there’s very little resolution—only questions about the hardness of living. Williams wrote the story between 1942 and 1945, and first published it in alongside several other short stories in 1948.
Williams wrote a screenplay out of the story in 1960. Therein, he changed a few character details—including the protagonist’s name, which became Ollie—but kept the plot largely the same. 
1942 – 1948