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  • Fiction:The 1930s to the 1960s
  • Catherine Calloway

The quantity of scholarship on modern fiction declined slightly this year. Only a dozen of the writers covered in this chapter receive book-length studies as compared to more than two dozen in 1998. Vladimir Nabokov and Jack Kerouac tie for first place with five books each, although a number of writers, including the frequently overlooked John O'Hara, Henry Roth, Conrad Aiken, and Jean Stafford, feature in either individual book-length studies, book chapters, or essays. In addition, Margaret Mitchell and Eudora Welty are the subjects of special issues of SC and GaR. As in recent years, scholarship is sparse on detective and science-fiction writers.

i Proletarians and Others

a. John Steinbeck

Steinbeck is represented by one book. Designed for students, Claudia Durst Johnson's Understanding The Grapes of Wrath: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents (Greenwood) analyzes Steinbeck's novel in the context of the era in which it is set. Johnson first takes a New Critical approach, considering such topics as theme, character, setting, and irony; she then devotes chapters to the Great Depression, agricultural history, the 1930s migrant farmworker, unionism and labor strikes, and capitalistic lawlessness. Going beyond Steinbeck's own era, Johnson also comments on post-World War II farm labor and the rise of César Chávez. The inclusion of documents such as letters, eyewitness interviews, flyers, statistics, affidavits, press releases, and autobiographical excerpts add authenticity to the text.

b. James Agee and Henry Roth

Bruce Jackson in "The Deceptive Anarchy of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" (AR 57: 38–49) argues that [End Page 313] Agee's book operates on two levels. It is not only Agee and photographer Walker Evans's documentary of tenant farming in the South in 1936; the book is also an aesthetic record of the difficulty of translating that experience into a coherent written account.

In "Henry Roth's National and Personal Narratives of Captivity" (PLL 35: 279–300) Jeffrey J. Folks explains that Roth "was not a bohemian or revolutionary" but instead was representative of his own national culture from which he could not break away.

c. Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin

In "Johnny's American Hunger: Metaphor and Meaning in Richard Wright's Rite of Passage" (CLAJ 43: 181–206) Earle V. Bryant examines food as a symbol of home and its security in that novella. Hazel Rowley in "Backstage and Onstage: The Drama of Native Son" (MissQ 52: 215–37) details the collaborative efforts by Wright, Paul Green, Orson Welles, and John Houseman to transform Native Son from novel to play. Much dissension surrounded the portrayal of Bigger Thomas, whom Green felt should be made "more likeable" and less "pathetic." Mikko Juhani Tuhkanen in " 'A [B]igger's Place': Lynching and Specularity in Richard Wright's 'Fire and Cloud' and Native Son" (AAR 33: 125–33) compares the way that African Americans are restricted to their places in Wright's story and novel. Because Bigger Thomas's "place," the courtroom, is more visible, it is more subjugating than the violent lynching experienced by Reverend Taylor in "Fire and Cloud." In "The Delinquent's Sabbath; Or, The Return of the Repressed: The Matter of Bodies in Native Son" (SNNTS 32: 202–21) Katherine Fishburn focuses on the significance of the body in pain in that novel. "Bigger Thomas gains a voice by projecting his body into the world," a projection that "externalizes his pain" and transfers it to the reader, who must then empathize with the author's pain. Elizabeth Schultz in "The Power of Blackness: Richard Wright Re-Writes Moby Dick" (AAR 33: 639–54) argues that Melville's novel influenced Wright's writing of Native Son. In Wright's version of Moby-Dick, Bigger Thomas's epic struggle is not with a white whale, but with a powerful white society, which threatens to engulf him and against which he can only react with rage and hatred. Using Lawd Today and Native Son as examples, Anthony Dawahare in "From No Man's Land to Mother-land: Emasculation and Nationalism in Richard Wright's Depression Era Urban Novels" (AAR 33...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2125
Print ISSN
0065-9142
Pages
pp. 313-335
Launched on MUSE
1999-01-01
Open Access
No
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