Great Depression, world War II, U.S., American theater, Eugene O'Neill, playwrights, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, writers of new American realism, John Dos Passos, Nathanael West, John Steinbeck, Thomas Wolfe, Richard Wright, Henry Miller, Dashiell Hammet, Raymond Chandler, James Cain
The confidence of the Jazz Age died in 1929 with the Crash. As the nation threatened to disintegrate, the American writer recognized the fragility of its coherence ; capitalism and industry could no longer be trusted to sustain an egalitarian society that could guarantee the welfare of all. During the 1920s, American writers expressed their dissent from a materialist America by expatriation, by engaging in experimental aesthetic adventure, by exploring new forms and joining in the excitements of surrealism. Many of the expatriates came back and found the country changed. There was now a need to reinterpret the country's past, and Marxism seemed an appropriate grid. In a sense, the dialectic that dominated the 30s was the opposition between Marxism and the conservative response it engendered. It is not difficult to understand the appeal Marxism held for novelists like Dreiser, Wright, West and Dos Passos, with its faith in progress, science and a better life. But by the end of the 30s, Marxism would lose in energy to challenge the American model, and Russia would no longer represent a viable alternative to America, notably because of Stalin's purge trials (1930s). Marxism and psychoanalysis can be seen as part of the growing internationalization of the American literary intelligence.
[...] Hammet is famous for The Maltese Falcon, which was made into a film (1941) by John Huston with Humphrey Bogart that is considered to be the first film noir, The Glass Key and Red Harvest, which was also made into films. Raymond Chandler continued in this direction with novels like The Big Sleep, also made into a famous film (1946) by Howard Hawks with Humphrey Bogart. He also worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood. James M. Cain is famous for Double Indemnity (1944), which was made into a film (1946) by Billy Wilder, and is considered to have written novels that are even more brutal. [...]
[...] California becomes once again the virgin Western kingdom where dreams and struggles of humanity are experienced. This novel, and Steinbeck's work as a whole, is, like Faulkner's, an excellent example of regionalism, where the local becomes a paradigmatic example of human experience. D. Thomas Wolfe (1900–1938) After studying in North Carolina and at Harvard, Thomas Wolfe went around the world and wrote about himself, so that his editor had to cut his words into book form, notably in Look Homeward, Angel (1929) and Of Time and the River (1935). [...]
[...] These novels have very complex narratives, so complex even that at the end of The Big Sleep, no one (not even Chandler, said William Faulkner when he was writing the screenplay for the film) really knew who killed one of the characters. The archetypical figures of this genre are the detective, the femme fatale and the psychopath or gangster. Often an ex-cop, the detective is a tough, cynical, ambivalent character. Because he is no longer a cop, he functions as a sort of go- between between the ‘normal' world and the criminal underworld; by doing so, he uncovers the corrupt in the normal world, c'est-à-dire its association to the criminal. [...]
[...] Marxism and psychoanalysis can be seen as part of the growing internationalization of the American literary intelligence. At the end of the 30s, the need for American literature rooted in native soil was even stronger than before; many critics and artists deplored the number of expatriate artists wasting their talent on pursuing European conventions when real novelty was to be found here. In a country so vast as the United States, regionalism seems to have been the solution to developing a native art. [...]
[...] American theater: Eugene O'Neill and other playwrights Theater was never really big in the US. One of the reasons is quite simply the nation's size. It was expensive for visiting British companies to tour the US. Geography also explains why theater has always been concentrated in New York, though Broadway soon became the center for musicals because of rising production costs. Another reason is that film soon became the most representative American art form of the century, and by the 1930s, its center was Hollywood. [...]
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