United States Literature
In its spiritual origin, the American literature of the last decade is the result of two facts: on the one hand, the disturbance caused in the consciences by the social events of the 1930-40s; on the other, the satiety of naturalistic-based social criticism initiated at the beginning of the twentieth century by Th. Dreiser; equipped – thanks to psychoanalysis – of more insidious weapons by Sh. Anderson; pushed by U. Sinclair to a truculent libellism in which the efforts of the thesis betray the same naturalistic approach led to the improbability of situations and finally brought by S. Lewis to a trite realism, in which it seems that the romantic element, of which the spirit American is still greedy, surviving only in the frequent overdoing of his novels. The satiety of this social criticism and the saturation produced by the overabundant production have made this literary orientation unable to express the disturbance of consciences. Under this stimulus, writers have been led to ask the question: “What is American?”; and to place it no longer distantly, almost in the spirit of a national claim for autonomy with respect to the European tradition, but in a direct way, under the pressure of the individual conscience that required to realize what was seen around. This research has also made great use of the so-called regionalism, of which writers who are very different in nature and tendency can be considered participants: from courteous realism (genteel tradition) by E. Glasgow to the neo-naturalism of W. Faulkner. If historical circumstances in the past determined very different conditions in the various parts of the vast territory and led the culture to develop along regional lines, a progressive fusion – still far from being completed but certainly in progress – is attenuating the differences under the pressure of multiple leveling forces. And as these forces are most active in urban centers, regionalism tends to focus on the landscape and rural populations. An accentuated diversity still persists between the group of northern states, richer and with a predominantly industrial economy, and the group of southern states, less rich, with a predominantly agricultural economy, with a more numerous Negro element and different cultural contradictions (just think,
In writers tending to an easy compromise between sentimentalism and commercial outcome, these differences can lapse into a form of exoticism and romantic escapism in local folklore and color; such is the case of MK Rawlings (South moon under ; Golden apples ; The yearling ; When the wheppoorwills, etc.). In the best cases, the same differences are assumed as a function of that mentioned research, to create a sort of myth of the American, of his life and his events. Hence the great vogue of historical novels, which from the tale of pure romantic delight (M. Mitchell, Gone with the wind ; H. Allen, Anthony Adverse, etc.), go as far as the formation of a new folklore in the framework of the past (notably the era of the Civil War); past which, following the example of S. Crane, writers have learned to deal with without heroic emphasis. This myth and folklore created in the present rather than in the past have given rise to some of J. Steinbeck’s best books, in which this orientation is combined with regional elements and a tendency towards a new form of picaresque epic. Of the picaresque genre, in which the adventurous spirit but also the relaxation of the costume is expressed, are greater and more turbid representatives E. Dahlberg (Bottom dogs ; From Flushing to Calvary, etc.), N. Algren (Somebody in boots) and E Anderson (Hungry men.). The troubled realism and the satisfaction with the bad sides of life take away much value from works of this genre, in which these characters do not find at least a semblance of justification in internal motives, as for Faulkner, or social ones, as for E. Caldwell. Not far from these violent tones is a group of novelists who make violence and alcoholism their favorite subjects. Many of these writers are but imitators of E. Hemingway; others represented the excesses of American life, especially during the years of prohibition.
It is significant that the most gifted writers today come almost all from the South. Among the women we should mention KA Porter (Flowering judas ; The leaning tower ; Pale horse pale rider), E. Welty (A curtain of green), C. McCullers (The heart is a lonely hunter ; Reflections in a golden eye); among men, A. Tate (The fathers), R. Penn Warren (All the King’s men) and R. Wright, black writer (Native Son). On the whole, the writers of the South show a deeper moral sense, a generally more solid religious and intellectual formation, less access to carelessness and commercialism. They are united by the common tendency to lean on the values of the past not for reasons of regret, but to react against the leveling of modern life; and while accepting traditional beliefs, they unite an enterprising spirit of initiative in the field of new aesthetic experiences. The writers just mentioned form a group also for their stylistic needs of the highest level. Finally, a new novel by J. Dos Passos (Number one) and the remarkable production given in recent years by JT Farrell (Father and son ; Ellen Rogers ; My days of anger). As an isolate, the narrator and essayist H. Miller should be mentioned.
If, in a quick overview, it can be said that American fiction reflects, with its own variety, the search for an interior solution and not just a social one, the unanchored state of mind implicit in this position can also be seen. in poetry. Of the group of poets that emerged between 1913 and 1917, the survivors, such as Vachel Lindsay, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, are now silent; Robinson Jeffers alone has given a new work (Be angry at the sun), confirming that from him, as from Marianne Moore and others of the same generation, no more news is to be expected. EE Cummings (Fifty poems, 1940 and One Times one, 1944); and a poet who revealed himself during the Second World War is Karl Shapiro (Person, place and thing) of value, up to now, unequal and not immune to programmatic oddities.
In the theater, already established authors continue to hold the field with success: from E. O ‘Neill, now in a decreasing phase, and from T. Wilder, up to M. Anderson, C. Odets, RE Sherwood.
A special mention deserves the criticism. After the disappearance of I. Babbitt and PE More and after LH Mencken devoted himself to philological studies on English in the United States, a new critical school has emerged. Between More’s neo-humanism and this new school are C. van Doren who revised and expanded his The American novel 1789-1939 and Van Wyck Brooks. Main exponents of the new criticism, which shows that it has not cut ties with the European tradition and demonstrates a complex literary consciousness, are E. Wilson, who in Axel’s Castle establishes subtle comparisons between the literature of his country and Europe (even if its recent Europe with out a Baedeker leave us perplexed by the incomprehension of the spirit and society of the old continent); FO Matthiessen, who in American Renaissance wrote a fundamental work for value judgments, although controversial in the method, and proved to be good critic in The achievement of T. S. Eliot and Henry James. The major phase ; and A. Kazin, who in his On native grounds demonstrates a quick and flexible understanding of contemporary American prose literature.
For other authors and writers whose works have not been mentioned, see the respective entries.