030533/4/5, 9th Jan. 2007
The American Modernism
(1914 - 1945)
William Faulkner (1897 - 1962)
American novelist and short-story writer who was awarded the
1949 Nobel Prize for Literature for his powerful and artistically
unique contribution to the modern American novel.
He wrote works of psychological drama and emotional depth,
typically with long serpentine prose and high, meticulouslychosen diction,also using groundbreaking literary devices such as
stream of consciousness, multiple narrations or points of view,
and time-shifts within narrative.
The general ambience of the South. Mississippi marked his sense
of humor, his sense of the tragic position of Blacks and Whites,
his keen characterization of usual Southern characters and his
timeless themes, one of them being that fiercely intelligent people
dwelled behind the facade of good old boys and simpletons.
Faulkner was known rather infamously for his drinking problem
as well, and throughout his life was known to be an alcoholic.
Faulkner's most celebrated novels include
The Sound and the Fury (1929)
As I Lay Dying (1930)
Light in August (1932)
The Unvanquished (1938)
Absalom, Absalom! (1936), usually considered his masterpiece.
His first short story collection, These 13 (1931), includes many
of his most acclaimed (and most frequently anthologized) stories,
including "A Rose for Emily," "Red Leaves," "That Evening
Sun," and "Dry September."
During the 1930s, in an effort to make money, Faulkner crafted a
sensationalist "pulp" novel entitled Sanctuary. Its themes of evil
and corruption (bearing Southern Gothic tones), resonate to this
day. A sequel to the book, Requiem for a Nun, is the only play
that he has published. It involves an introduction that is actually
one sentence that spans for a couple pages.
a National Book Award (posthumously) for his Collected Stories.
4. Novels of Social Awareness
Since the 1890s, an undercurrent of social protest had coursed
through American literature, welling up in the naturalism of
Stephen Crane and Theodore Dreiser and in the clear messages of
the muckraking novelists.
Later socially engaged authors included Sinclair Lewis, John
Steinbeck, John Dos Passos, Richard Wright, and the dramatist
They were linked to the 1930s in their concern for the welfare of
the common citizen and their focus on groups of people -- the
professions, as in Sinclair Lewis's archetypal Arrowsmith (a
physician) or Babbitt (a local businessman); families, as in
Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath; or urban masses, as Dos Passos
accomplishes through his 11 major characters in his U.S.A. trilogy.
Sinclair Lewis (1885 - 1951)
Sinclair Lewis, the first American to win the Nobel Prize for
Literature in 1930 for his vigorous and graphic art of description
and his ability to create, with wit and humour, new types of
characters, was born in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, in 1885.
Probably the greatest satirist of his era, Lewis wrote novels that
present a devastating picture of middle-class American life in the
1920s. Although he ridiculed the values, the lifestyles, and even the
speech of his characters, there is affection behind the irony.
He was the conscience of his generation and he could well serve as
the conscience of our own. His analysis of the America of the 1920s
holds true for the America of today. His prophecies have become
our truths and his fears our most crucial problems."
Lewis began his career as a journalist, editor, and hack writer. With
the publication of Main Street (1920), a merciless satire on life in a
Midwestern small town, Lewis immediately became an important
literary figure. His next novel, Babbitt (1922), considered by many
critics to be his greatest work, is a scathing portrait of an average
American businessman, a Republican and a Rotarian, whose
individuality has been erased by conformist values.
Sinclair Lewis was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Main
Street and Babbitt, and won the award for Arrowsmith (although
he turned it down).
Arrowsmith (1925) satirizes the medical profession.
Elmer Gantry (1927) attacks hypocritical religious revivalism.
Dodsworth (1929), a more mellow work, is a sympathetic picture
of a wealthy American businessman in Europe; it was
successfully dramatized by Lewis and Sidney Howard in 1934.
During his lifetime he published 22 novels, and it is generally
agreed that his later novels are far less successful than his early
fiction. Among his later works are It Can’t Happen Here (1935),
Cass Timberlane (1945), Kingsblood Royal (1947), and World So
From 1928 to 1942 Lewis was married to Dorothy Thompson
(1894–1961), a distinguished newspaperwoman and foreign
correspondent. He died in Rome in 1951.
John Dos Passos (1896 - 1970)
John Dos Passos is one of the most overtly political authors in
this unit. Involved in many radical political movements, Dos
Passos saw the expansion of consumer capitalism in the first
decades of the twentieth century as a dangerous threat to the
health of the nation.
The son of unmarried Portuguese American parents, Dos Passos
grew up in Chicago. He attended prestigious East Coast schools,
first the Choate School and then Harvard University. He
graduated from Harvard in 1916 and joined the war effort before
the United States entered World War I, becoming a member of a
volunteer ambulance corps and later serving in the American
medical corps. Following the war he became a freelance
journalist, while also working on fiction, poetry, essays, and plays.
Like Sinclair Lewis, John Dos Passos began as a left-wing radical
but moved to the right as he aged. Dos Passos wrote realistically,
in line with the doctrine of socialist realism. His best work
achieves a scientific objectivism and almost documentary effect.
Dos Passos developed an experimental collage technique for his
masterwork U.S.A., consisting of The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919
(1932), and The Big Money (1936). This sprawling collection
covers the social history of the United States from 1900 to 1930
and exposes the moral corruption of materialistic American
society through the lives of its characters.
Dos Passos's new techniques included "newsreel" sections taken
from contemporary headlines, popular songs, and advertisements,
as well as "biographies" briefly setting forth the lives of
important Americans of the period, such as inventor Thomas
Edison, labor organizer Eugene Debs, film star Rudolph
Valentino, financier J.P. Morgan, and sociologist Thorstein
Veblen. Both the newsreels and biographies lend Dos Passos's
novels a documentary value; a third technique, the "camera
eye," consists of stream of consciousness prose poems that offer
a subjective response to the events described in the books.
John Steinbeck (1902 - 1968)
I. General Introduction:
John Steinbeck was born in Sainas, California on 27th February,
1902. He studied marine biology at Stanford University and worked
as a agricultural labourer while writing novels and in 1929
published Cup of Gold. This was followed by a collection of short
stories portraying the people in a farm community, The Pastures of
Heaven (1932) and a novel about a farmer, To a God Unknown
Tortilla Flat (1935), a novel about Monterey, brought him national
recognition and this was followed by In Dubious Battle (1935), Of
Mice and Men (1937), The Long Valley (1938) and his best-known
novel, The Grapes of Wrath (1939), a novel in defense of the poor
as against the rich. This novel of a family fleeing from the dust bowl
of Oklahoma won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1940.
During the Second World War Steinbeck went to Europe where he
reported the war for the New York Tribune. He also published The
Moon is Down (1942), a novel about the resistance in Norway to the
4) Other books by Steinbeck include Cannery Row (1945),
The Pearl (1947), A Russian Journal (1948), Burning
Bright (1950), East of Eden (1952), Sweet Thursday
(1954), The Short Reign of Pippin IV (1957) and a
selection of his writings as a war correspondent, Once
There Was a War (1958) and Winter of our Discount
5) East of Eden is probably Steinbeck's most substantial
work. In it Steinbeck stops looking towards social
injustice as the source of evil, and instead explores the
roots of evil in human psychology.
6) Steinbeck received the Nobel prize for literature in 1962
for his “realistic and imaginative writings, combining as
they do sympathetic humour and keen social
perception.” He died in New York in 1966.
II. His Masterpiece: The Grapes of Wrath
In stark and moving detail, John Steinbeck depicts the lives of
ordinary people striving to preserve their humanity in the face of
social and economic desperation. When the Joads lose their
tenant farm in Oklahoma, they join thousands of others, traveling
the narrow concrete highways toward California and the dream of
a piece of land to call their own. Each night on the road, they and
their fellow migrants recreate society: leaders are chosen,
unspoken codes of privacy and generosity evolve, and lust,
violence, and murderous rage erupt.
A portrait of the bitter conflict between the powerful and the
powerless, of one man's fierce reaction to injustice, and of a
woman's quiet, stoical strength, The Grapes of Wrath is a
landmark of American literature, one that captures the horrors of
the Great Depression as it probes into the very nature of equality
and justice in America.
5. The Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance (HR) was a flowering of the arts in the
1920’s and 30’s. African Americans used writing, music, and art
to demonstrate strong beliefs. Many of these beliefs were
grounded in the works of W.E.B. Du Bois who emphasized the
necessity of black liberation, retaining black cultural pride, and
not giving into white standards. Especially the notion of
"twoness" shows a divided awareness of the black's identity.
Feelings were strong, however there was little violence involved
and many white accepted it. New ideas and beliefs were
expressed in innovative, non- conventional ways. For example,
the music style of jazz flourished and improvisation was
embraced. Harlem, N. Y. C. became the biggest hot spot in
American for any aspiring African American artist. The city came
alive at night as bars and clubs burst with music and dancing.
Responding to the heady intellectual atmosphere of the time and
place, writers and artists, many of whom lived in Harlem, began
to produce a wide variety of fine and highly original works
dealing with African-American life. These works attracted many
black readers. New to the wider culture, they also attracted
commercial publishers and a large white readership.
Writers associated with the Harlem Renaissance include Arna
Bontemps, Langston Hughes, Claude Mckay, Countee Cullen,
James Weldon Johnson, Zora Neale Hurston, and Jean Toomer.
HR was more than just a literary movement: it included racial
consciousness, "the back to Africa" movement led by Marcus
Garvey, racial integration, the explosion of music particularly
jazz, spirituals and blues, painting, dramatic revues, and others. It
was a huge leap for black liberation and culture.
The Great Depression caused the Harlem group of writers to
scatter; many were forced to leave New York or to take other jobs
to tide them over the hard times.
James Weldon Johnson was one of the leading figures of the
period, author of the pioneering novel Autobiography of an ExColoured Man (1912), and perhaps best known for God’s
Trombones (1927), a collection of seven sermons in free verse,
expressing the characteristic style and themes of the black
preacher in pure and eloquent English. Johnson also acted as
mentor to many of the young black writers who formed the core
of the Harlem group.
Claude Mckay, an immigrant from Jamaica, produced an
impressive volume of verse, Harlem Shadows (1922), and a bestselling novel, Home to Harlem (1928), about a young Negro's
return from World War I.
Countee Cullen was another important black poet. Cullen helped
bring more Harlem poets to public notice by editing Caroling
Dusk: An Anthology of Verse by Negro Poets in 1927.
Langston Hughes published his first collection of verse, The
Weary Blues, in 1926, and his novel Not Without Laughter
appeared in 1930.
Zora Neale Hurston published her masterpiece Their Eyes Are
Watching God in 1937. It carried a message about the misery of
black life in America. Their eyes evolved around a black woman
in search of happiness. Zora admits to putting all the tenderness
of her passion she felt for a man of West Indian descent into the
book, and that the character Tea Cake possessed the good looks,
physical strength and capacity to love, like the man she loved.
Zora also revealed through Jamie, the female character in the
book, the jealousy and love she felt for her true love.
Jean Toomer wrote short stories like "Bona and Paul" and
"Withered Skin of Berries," the plays "Natalie Mann" (1922) and
"Balo" (1922), and many poems such as "Five Vignettes,"
"Skyline," "Poem in C," "Gum," "Banking Coal," and "The First