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American literature in the 30-s and later. M. Gold, J. Steinbeck, H. Miller, K.A. Porter
The world depression of the 1930s affected most of the population of the United States. Workers lost their jobs, and factories shut down; businesses and banks failed; farmers, unable to harvest, transport, or sell their crops, could not pay their debts and lost their farms. Midwestern droughts turned the "breadbasket" of America into a dust bowl. Many farmers left the Midwest for California in search of jobs, as vividly described in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1939). At the peak of the Depression, one-third of all Americans were out of work. Soup kitchens, shanty towns, and armies of hobos -- unemployed men illegally riding freight trains -- became part of national life. Many saw the Depression as a punishment for sins of excessive materialism and loose living. The dust storms that blackened the midwestern sky, they believed, constituted an Old Testament judgment: the "whirlwind by day and the darkness at noon." The Depression turned the world upside down. The United States had preached a gospel of business in the 1920s; now, many Americans supported a more active role for government in the New Deal programs of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Federal money created jobs in public works, conservation, and rural electrification. Artists and intellectuals were paid to create murals and state handbooks. These remedies helped, but only the industrial build-up of World War II renewed prosperity. War production and experimentation led to new technologies, including the nuclear bomb. The U.S. Depression has been the subject of much writing, as the country has sought to reevaluate an era that dumped financial as well as emotional catastrophe on its people.
John Steinbeck (1902-1968) is held in higher critical esteem outside the United States than in it today, largely because he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1963 and the international fame it confers. In both cases, the Nobel Committee selected liberal American writers noted for their social criticism. Steinbeck, a Californian, set much of his writing in the Salinas Valley near San Francisco. His best known work is the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939), which follows the travails of a poor Oklahoma family that loses its farm during the Depression and travels to California to seek work. Family members suffer conditions of feudal oppression by rich landowners. Other works set in California include Tortilla Flat (1935), Of Mice and Men (1937), Cannery Row (1945), and East of Eden (1952).Steinbeck combines realism with a primitivist romanticism that finds virtue in poor farmers who live close to the land. His fiction demonstrates the vulnerability of such people, who can be uprooted by droughts and are the first to suffer in periods of political unrest and economic depression.
Henry Valentine Miller (1891 – 1980) was an American writer and painter. He is known for breaking with existing literary forms and developing a new sort of "novel" that is a mixture of novel, autobiography, social criticism, philosophical reflection, surrealist free association, and mysticism, one that is distinctly always about and expressive of the real-life Henry Miller and yet is also fictional. His most characteristic works of this kind are Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn, and Black Spring. He also wrote travel memoirs and essays of literary criticism and analysis.He was played by Fred Ward in the 1990 movie Henry & June, and Rip Torn in the 1970 film adaptation of Tropic of Cancer. In the 1970 low budget adaptation of Quiet Days in Clichy, the Miller-based character of 'Carl' was played by Wayne Rodda. A subsequent adaptation in 1990 saw Andrew McCarthy play the Miller role as "Henry Miller" himself.
Katherine Anne Porter (1890 – 1980) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist, essayist, short story writer, novelist, and political activist. She is known for her penetrating insight; her works deal with dark themes such as betrayal, death and the origin of human evil. Porter published only 32 poems.
36. AM. LIT-RE IN THE 1940-50S. R.P.WARREN, F.O’CONNOR, C.McCULLERS When WW II started in Europe in 1939, most Am-ns wanted to stay out of it. “America first!” was a popular phrase at that time. People felt that America should worry about its own problems & forget the rest of the world. WW II produced a large number of war novels, many of them quite good. Authors of WW II belong to the naturalistic tradition. Usually they show the ugliness & horror of war in a realistic manner. They are naturalistic because they study the effect of war on ordinary people & on soldiers. Novelists rarely show any particular kind of “political consciousness”. American authors in the 50s show that that they are very uncomfortable in the post-war world. The new political fears (the Bomb & of Communism) are less important to them than their own psychological problems in the new American society. The most interesting authors are developing new & important themes. Many writers in this period try to find new answers to the old question, “Who I am?” Many writers find the answer by looking at their own cultural & racial backgrounds. Others explore the ideas of modern philosophy & psychology. The young “Beat” writers use Oriental religion for the same purpose. The new writers of the South seem less “modern”. The central theme of their work is often loneliness & “the search for the self”.
Mary Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964) was an American author, whose fiction suggests the reality of “another world”. In O’Connor’s case, this other world appears to be connected to her Roman Catholicism. For her, “the centre of existence is the Holy Ghost”. But she rarely discusses religion directly. Her stories & novels are filled with horrible events & grotesque characters. This makes her typical of the “Southern Gothic” school of writing. There are murderers, haters & madmen. The events & people are almost always part of religious allegory. An important voice in American literature, O'Connor wrote 2 novels & 31 short stories, as well as a number of reviews & commentaries. Her 2 novels were “Wise Blood” (1952) & “The Violent Bear It Away” (1960). She also published 2 books of short stories: “A Good Man Is Hard to Find & Other Stories” (1955) &“Everything That Rises Must Converge” (published posthumously in 1965). Flannery O'Connor, a native of Georgia, lived a life cut short by lupus, a blood disease. Still, she refused sentimentality, as is evident in her extremely humorous yet bleak & uncompromising stories. O'Connor most often held her characters at arm's length, revealing their inadequacy & silliness. The uneducated southern characters who people her novels often create violence through superstition or religion, as in her novel “Wise Blood” (1952), about a religious fanatic who establishes his own church. Sometimes violence arises out of prejudice, as in "The Displaced Person"(1955), about an immigrant killed by ignorant country people who are threatened by his hard work & strange ways. Often, cruel events simply happen to the characters, as in "Good Country People" (1955), the story of a girl seduced by a man who steals her artificial leg. The black humor of O'Connor links her with Nathanael West & Joseph Heller. Her works include also a volume of letters, “The Habit of Being” (1979). “The Complete Stories” came out in 1971.
Carson McCullers (1917 – 1967) was an American writer. She wrote fiction that explores the spiritual isolation of misfits & outcasts of the South. In 1935 she moved to North Carolina, & in 1937 she married a soldier & struggling writer, Reeves McCullers (both were bisexual). There she wrote her first novel “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter”, in the Southern Gothic tradition. The horrors of life are major theme in McCuller’s work. They are described with careful coolness, & without any emotion. This “coolness” emphasizes the tragedy of lives lived in loneliness. The Southern towns of McCuller’s stories are filled with race hatred & other kinds of “lovelessness”. Her physical descriptions help us see this lovelessness. This is the opening description of her most famous short story, “The Ballad of the Sad Café” (1951). The characters in the story are unreal< like the characters of a myth: Miss Amelia, a strong but lonely woman, falls in love with her cousin, a hateful dwarf – again the theme of human separateness. One person bravely tries to love, but the other person cannot, or will not, return this love.
Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989) one of the southern Fugitives, enjoyed a fruitful career running through most of the 20th century. He showed a lifelong concern with democratic values as they appeared within historical context. The most enduring of his novels is “All the King's Men” (1946), focusing on the darker implications of the American dream as revealed in this thinly veiled account of the career of a flamboyant & threatening southern politician, Huey Long.
37. AMERICAN LITERATURE IN THE 19540-50 & LATER. S.BELLOW, J.D.SALINGER, J.BALDWIN
The 1950s saw the delayed impact of modernization & technology in everyday life. Not only did World War II defeat fascism, it brought the US out of the Depression, & the 1950s provided most Americans with time to enjoy long-awaited material prosperity. Business, especially in the corporate world, seemed to offer the good life (usually in the suburbs), with its real & symbolic marks of success -- house, car, television, & home appliances. Yet loneliness at the top was a dominant theme for many writers; the faceless corporate man became a cultural stereotype in Sloan Wilson's best-selling novel The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1955). The 1950s in literary terms actually was a decade of subtle & pervasive unease. Some writers went further by focusing on characters who dropped out of mainstream society, as did J.D. Salinger in “The Catcher in the Rye”, R. Ellison in “Invisible Man’’, & J. Kerouac in “On the Road”. & in the waning days of the decade, Philip Roth arrived with a series of short stories reflecting a certain alienation from his Jewish heritage (Goodbye, Columbus). His psychological ruminations provided fodder for fiction, & later autobiography, into the new millennium. The fiction of American-Jewish writers Bellow, B. Malamud, & I.B.Singer -- among others prominent in the 1950s & the years following -- are also worthy, compelling additions to the compendium of American lit-re. The output of these 3 authors is most noted for its humor, ethical concern, & portraits of Jewish communities in the Old & New Worlds.
Saul Bellow (1915-2005) Born in Canada & raised in Chicago. He was of Russian-Jewish background. In college, he studied anthropology & sociology, which greatly influenced his writing. He once expressed a profound debt to Theodore Dreiser for his openness to a wide range of experience & his emotional engagement with it. Highly respected, Bellow received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976. Bellow's early, somewhat grim existentialist novels include “Dangling Man” (1944), a Kafkaesque study of a man waiting to be drafted into the army, & “The Victim” (1947), about relations b/n Jews & Gentiles. In the 1950s, his vision became more comic: He used a series of energetic & adventurous first-person narrators in “The Adventures of Augie March” (1953) -- the study of a Huck Finn-like urban entrepreneur who becomes a black marketeer in Europe. Bellow's later works include “Herzog” (1964), about the troubled life of a neurotic English professor who specializes in the idea of the romantic self; “Mr. Sammler's Planet“(1970); & the autobiographical “The Dean's December” (1982). In the late 1980s, Bellow wrote 2 novellas in which elderly protagonists search for ultimate verities, “Something To Remember Me By”(1991) & “The Actual” (1997). He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1976 & the National Medal of Arts in 1988. B. is best known for writing novels that investigate isolation, spiritual dissociation, & the possibilities of human awakening. B. drew inspiration from Chicago, his adopted city, & he set much of his fiction there. His works exhibit a mix of high & low culture, & his fictional characters are also a potent mix of intellectual dreamers & street-smart confidence men.
Jerome David Salinger (1919- ) A forerunner of things to come in the 1960s, J.D. Salinger has portrayed attempts to drop out of society. Born in New York City, he achieved huge literary success with the publication of his novel “The Catcher in the Rye” (1951), centered on a sensitive 16-year-old, Holden Caulfield, who flees his elite boarding school for the outside world of adulthood, only to become disillusioned by its materialism & phoniness. When asked what he would like to be, Caulfield answers "the catcher in the rye," misquoting a poem by Robert Burns. In his vision, he is a modern version of a white knight, the sole preserver of innocence. He imagines a big field of rye so tall that a group of young children cannot see where they are running as they play their games. He is the only big person there. The fall over the cliff is equated with the loss of childhood innocence -- a persistent theme of the era. Other works by this reclusive, spare writer include “Nine Stories” (1953),”Franny & Zooey”(1961), & “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters” (1963), a collection of stories from “The New Yorker”magazine. Since the appearance of one story in 1965, Salinger -- who lives in New Hampshire -- has been absent from the American literary scene. A major theme in Salinger's work is the strong yet delicate mind of "disturbed" adolescents, & the redemptive capacity of children in the lives of such young men. Salinger is also known for his reclusive nature; he has not given an interview since 1980, & has not made a public appearance, nor published any new work (at least under his own name), since 1965.
James Baldwin (1924-1987) mirrors the African-American experience of the 1950s. His characters suffer from a lack of identity, rather than from over-ambition. B., the oldest of 9 children born to a Harlem, New York, family, was the foster son of a minister. As a youth, B. occasionally preached in the church. This experience helped shape the compelling, oral quality of his prose, most clearly seen in his excellent essays such as "Letter From a Region of My Mind", from the collection “The Fire Next Time” (1963). In this work, he argued movingly for an end to separation b/n the races. Baldwin's first novel, the autobiographical “Go Tell It on the Mountain” (1953), is probably his best known. It is the story of a 14-year-old boy who seeks self-knowledge & religious faith as he wrestles with issues of Christian conversion in a storefront church. Other important B. works include “Another Country” (1962) & “Nobody Knows My Name” (1961), a collection of passionate personal essays about racism, the role of the artist, & lit-re.
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