Henry Roth's Call It Sleep (1934) thematizes the difficulty of extrapolating from the particularity of one novel's protagonist to general political or social concerns. Contemporaneous proletarian critics and novelists such as Mike Gold had developed a poetics of proletarian fiction, hypothesizing that formal attributes such as specificity of visual detail, small- and large-scale repetition, and the "typicality" of the novel's protagonist and events would enable readers to generalize from the novel to their own lives. But Call It Sleep's fixation with aural repetition and visual detail simultaneously promotes and refuses generalizations from its determinedly idiosyncratic protagonist, David Schearl, to readers' experience, making the novel a limit case for the idea of novelistic typicality. Its dialectic between the particular and the general suggests, ultimately, that political change must come from external education and not from moments of individual recognition.


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pp. 47-69
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