On the Line started out on a positive note, one that almost recalled Martin Eden, if only for the first few pages. LeRoy’s optimistic outlook on life resonated the same ambition that Eden had upon finding his calling as a writer. However, like Jack London’s novel, the story takes a turn for the worst. Unlike Martin Eden, On the Line is unfortunately and terribly realistic. It is a lot like Christ in Concrete. Small missteps can change your future in an instant. Each and every one of the characters introduced in the novel has something they are striving for, or at the very least they were striving for something. LeRoy’s passion for music and dream of becoming an opera singer is destroyed due to one unfortunate injury. Kevin’s optimism and zeal for life is disillusioned once he realizes his small goal didn’t mean anything at all in the long run. The only character who seems to have even the slightest amount of hope is Walter, who, as of yet, has not fallen victim to the bad luck of working in the factory.
The novel is bleak. It seems that everyone working at the factory will be stuck there. Despite Joe’s belief that Walter will move on with his life, as the lives of each of the men unfold, it seems that none of them will. The job is a trap. The money is a trap. It calls you into work each day as a means to an end that never comes. The third chapter encapsulates this idea in almost everything that “Joe the Vanishing American” tells Walter. He makes an impact on the eighteen year old, because he’s the only one who takes an interest in him and tries to show him that there is a life beyond this seemingly meaningless existence. Walter needs to continue striving for it, but never forget the work he did on that assembly line.
For everyone else, including Kevin and LeRoy, it appears that there is no future. Kevin returns to Ireland because he’s become as disillusioned by the harsh reality they live much like his co-workers. At first he doesn’t see what they mean. It’s only after he realizes that the car he bought came about from LeRoy’s accident, and Walter’s sweat. America isn’t what he thought it would be. He’s emotionally damaged by the experience, LeRoy is physically damaged, and though Walter seems the brightest among them, it is possible he will fall victim to the work as well.
As far as I have read, On the Line is a depressing novel that does not see hope for those stuck in the cogs of menial labor. One way or another you will find yourself stuck in a place you thought you were going to move on from. As an optimistic person with a strong hope for the future, it is disheartening to read this book, seeing what happens to these (fictional) men—events that could happen to anyone. For many, the stark reality is that their job pays the bills and the profession they dreamed of has passed them by. The chance is too far gone and the work has consumed them.