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CELIA ESPLUGAS West Chester University Sherwood Anderson’s Beyond Desire and the Industrial South1 SHERWOOD ANDERSON’S BEYOND DESIRE (1932) IS NOTABLE FOR ITS criticism of the materialist economy that plagued the workers in the industrial South of the 1930s. The novel denounces the exploitation of men, women, and even children, and calls attention to their struggle to survive in inhumane working conditions. Witnessing the inequities of the industrial South, Anderson protested its economic system and aligned himself with other novelists who in the 1930s sought in communism the solution to the plight of workers. Like Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep (1934) and John Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle (1936), to namejusttwo,Anderson’sBeyondDesirerevealstheeconomicinjustices in the life of common and poor people intertwined with the hope offered by communism.2 In this framework, the author exposes a power structure that exploits class, gender, and race to attain inordinate economic benefits for a privileged few.3 But Beyond Desire deserves to be revisited both for its scathing criticism of Southern capitalism in the1930s and for its reminder that today, nearly eight decades later, the persistent weaknesses of such an economic system still need to be exposed and resolved. In the early thirties, the labor movement and the poor working conditions in the Southern mills provided Anderson with topics for his book-length essay titled Perhaps Women (1931) and his novel Beyond Desire (1932). As Charles E. Modlin suggests, “Anderson’s interest in the emerging world of American industry had previously been reflected in the agrarian-industrial conflict in Winesburg, Ohio, Poor White, and 1 I would like to thank Dr. John W. Ward (West Chester University) and Dr. John Jebb (University of Delaware) for their generous comments and suggestions on this study. 2 It is worth noting that Beyond Desire predates these two better-known works. 3 The novel has not been well-regarded by critics. For example, Irving Howe sees it as structurally and stylistically weak (231), Kim Townsend stresses its poor reception and what she sees as its preoccupation with sex (279-80), and David Anderson points out its “formlessness, meandering, and irrelevancies” (Introduction 128). 656 Celia Esplugas many of his short stories, including ‘The Egg’ and ‘Ohio Pagan.’ [Then], however, his concern with industrialism became much more politically focused” (xv). In 1929, Anderson visited mills in Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee, where he observed the labor conditions of the workers. In “Elizabethton, Tennessee” (1929), Anderson wrote of “a recent flare up of labor trouble among the employees of the huge rayon plants there....... [A] woman who had long been engaged with an organization that works for the betterment of the [laborers] . . . told me . . . terrible things” about the working conditions in the mills (526). Meeting workers and observing both unfair management practices and a materialist economy not only inspired Anderson’s writing but also turned his political focus to communism as a possible solution to the problem of workers’ exploitation. In both Perhaps Women and Beyond Desire, Anderson denounces the capitalist exploitation of workers in the Southern mills. Industrial economy produced a stratified society that discriminated against the workers and the poor. In Beyond Desire, Anderson presents the communist ideology that developed in the Southern mills in defense of workers’ rights and dialectical relations, i.e. the opposition of forces (institutions, employers, workers and social classes) that shaped the Southern industrial economy and society. In the novel these relations establish a socioeconomic structure in which the educated middle class exploits the uneducated worker while the bourgeoisie(management)disempowerstheproletariatanddiscriminates according to gender, class, and race. Beyond Desire situates Anderson’s interest in communism in the socio-economic climate of his time by dramatizing the dialectical relations that sustained Southern capitalist industries. I Anderson’s political activism developed principally from 1931 to 1933. Concerned about the exploitation of labor and the unfair demands of capitalism, he turned his attention to the working and living conditions of the factory hands, their sufferings and struggles. These topics led him to explore communist ideology as a tool to resolve the social and economic imbalances of his time. Although his interest in communism was short-lived, he continued to support socio-political and economic...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 655-678
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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