Literature( and theater)

   While the literature of the 1920s is mostly remembered for the “lost generation” of writers who were disaffected, alienated, and often out of the country, the 1930s in particular are remembered for the novels of social protest and social realism, some often having a “proletarian” emphasis. Chief among these is John Steinbeck’s depiction of the rural poor in Grapes of Wrath (1939), but also significant was James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan trilogy (1932-1935) and Erskine Caldwell’s depiction of southern poverty in Tobacco Road (1932). The southern emphasis was also evident in the body of writing by William Faulkner. Politics too seemed important, as indicated in Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here (1933) or Ernest Hemingway’s novel of the Spanish Civil War, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). One of the most powerful books of racial protest, Native Son by African American author Richard Wright, also appeared in 1940. But not all writing was intent on grim realism. Children’s author Laura Ingalls Wilder had enormous success with her Little House novels, especially Little House on the Prairie (1935), looking back on pioneer days, and Margaret Mitchell’s Civil War romance Gone with the Wind (1936) was a great hit both as a book and film.
   Some of the social themes examined by novelists were also explored by established playwright Eugene O’Neill in Ah, Wilderness! in 1933 and The Iceman Cometh, written in 1939 but staged in 1946. In 1936, O’Neill received the Nobel Prize for Literature for his work during the 1920s. Political comments can be found in Clifford Odets’s Waiting for Lefty (1935). Also significant is Lillian Hellman’s Children’s Hour (1934) and The Little Foxes (1939). The latter was made into a film in 1941 starring Bette Davis. Hellman was among those blacklisted during the period of McCarthyism in the 1950s, a theme that itself lay behind Arthur Miller’s postwar masterpiece The Crucible (1953). Miller had already established himself with earlier plays, especially Death of a Salesman (1949). The other major playwright of the period was Tennessee Williams, whose depiction of southern society in The Glass Menagerie (1944) and A Street Car Named Desire (1947) reflected similar concerns of Faulkner, of Eudora Welty in Delta Wedding (1946), and of Carson McCullers in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940), Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941), and The Member of the Wedding (1946). A number of new literary figures emerged during World War II. War poets Randall Jarrell and Karl Shapiro, novelist John Hersey with the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Bell for Adano (1944), Irwin Shaw with The Young Lions (1948), Norman Mailer with The Naked and the Dead (1948), and James Jones with From Here to Eternity (1951) all dealt with the subject of war, while issues of Jewishness and general alienation were central concerns of Saul Bellow first in Dangling Man (1944) and then in The Victim (1947). Bellow became a major writer from the 1950s through the 1970s. Alienated youth began to appear in novels such as J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye (1951), while Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison’s literary masterpiece dealing with the alienation of African Americans, was published in 1952. More popular literature included the religious novels of Lloyd C. Douglas, like The Robe (1943), and the historical romance by Kathryn Winsor, Forever Amber (1944). Both of these were made into films.

Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . . 2015.

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