20. American literature after the Second World War.
The title of the period underlines the importance of War in the understanding of all the literary processes of the second half of the 20th century. First of al, it means that America as well as European countries suffered during this war, half a million of its citizen died and though it cannot be compared with the losses of the European part of the world still the theme of war took huge place in the minds and literary works of the Americans. On the other hand, starting with the middle of the 40-s America has changed its position from the outsider of the world economy, politics and industry to the headliner of the world in all the possible spheres. It was supposed by many people and its own citizens a background for the future of the world that was lately called “mass”, “postindustrial” or “Informational”. But the development of mass media and industry made the person feel lonely in this world oriented not for the personality but for the crowd.
The 1950-s are called “silent” because that was the period when in spite of the cold war grew the middle class in America and people started thinking that everyone in the country lives very well. This social situation was immediately revealed by the drama. The common theme for Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller becomes the personality in conflict with the outer world, the ruling value, and even its own ideas and dreams. Their hero is a person that is being destroyed by the time and inner struggle.
The late works of Eugene O’Neill speak about the tragedy of human life and his own past. Among these plays are “The iceman Cometh”, “Long Day’s Journey into the night”, “A Moon for the misbegotten”, “A touch of the poet”. His characters live with their memories and are afraid of the development of time. His plays unite naturalistic elements and symbolist’s generalizations.
The same pathos can be seen in the younger American drama. One of the best of his plays “Death of a Salesman” was previously called “in his head’ all the events happen in the head of an old salesman Willy Lowman. Standing in front of his death, lost between past and present, memories and reality he tries to guess the reason of his own misfortunes. Being an embodiment of a real Yankee he built his life according to the principles of the national model but something turned to be wrong.
Tennessee Williams – real name Thomas Lanier – writes plays-memories, plays-dreams. The best of them belong to the early period of his creativity – “The glass menagerie”, “a streetcar named desire”, his works written in 50-s “cat on a hot tin roof”, “Orpheus Descending”, “Sweet bird of Youth”. His main themes are beauty too weak and that’s way doomed to death.
The 1940-s is the period when two afro-american authors started writing. They are Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin. James Arthur Baldwin was a novelist, short story writer, playwright, poet, and essayist, best known for his novel Go Tell It on the Mountain. Most of Baldwin's work deals with racial and sexual issues in the mid-20th century United States. His novels are notable for the personal way in which they explore questions of identity as well as for the way in which they mine complex social and psychological pressures related to being black and homosexual, well before the social, cultural or political equality of these groups could be assumed.
“Go Tell It on the Mountain” is a 1953 autobiographical novel by James Baldwin. The novel examines the role of the Christian Church in the lives of African-Americans, both as a source of repression and moral hypocrisy and as a source of inspiration and community. It also, more subtly, examines racism in the United States. The novel is likely Baldwin's most famous.
Baldwin makes several references to the Holy Bible in “Go Tell it on the Mountain”, most importantly to the story of Ham, Noah’s son who saw his father naked one day. Noah consequently cursed Ham’s son Caanan to become the servant of Noah’s other sons.
This story is important for two reasons. Firstly, it was used as a Biblical justification of slavery and the inferiority of the Negroid race because Ham’s sons migrated to Africa. John wonders about this interpretation briefly in the novel. Secondly, this story established the taboo of the nakedness of the patriarchy. John apparently one day also saw Gabriel naked in the bath. But he also sees Gabriel naked metaphorically. John sees him as a hypocrite. Because of this, the story of Ham is referenced often when Baldwin describes John’s crisis of faith.
Baldwin refers to several other people and stories from the Bible, at one point alluding to the story of Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt, and drawing a parallel to that exodus and the need for a similar exodus for African-Americans out of their subservient role in which whites have kept them.
The novel is autobiographical. Like John Grimes, James Baldwin grew up in Harlem and never knew his biological father. His stepfather was a Christian minister and Baldwin said he was abusive and strict. Also like John, Baldwin underwent a religious awakening at the age of 14 and became a preacher himself. He later became disillusioned with church life and expressed this in his later novels.
The 1950-s is the time for the new movement in America – the Beat Generation. Kerouac introduced the phrase Beat Generation sometime around 1948 to describe his friends and as a general term describing the underground, anti-conformist youth gathering in New York. The adjective beat had the connotations of "tired" or "down and out," but Kerouac added the paradoxical connotations of upbeat, beatific, and the musical association of being "on the beat."
Calling this relatively small group of struggling writers, students, hustlers, and drug addicts a "generation" was to make the claim that they were representative and important—the beginnings of a new trend, analogous to the influential Lost Generation.
The same period was the start of creativity of Jerome David Salinger didn’t belong to any of the groupings of his time but was surely close to them. The Catcher in the Rye is a novel by J.D. Salinger. First published in the US in 1951, the novel remains controversial to this day for its liberal profanity and portrayal of sexuality and teenage angst.
Holden Caulfield is the protagonist and narrator of the story. Holden is a sixteen year old with a bit of grey hair making him look more mature, who has just been expelled (for academic failure) from a school called Pencey Prep. He is intelligent and sensitive, but Holden narrates in a cynical and jaded voice. He finds the hypocrisy and ugliness of the world around him almost unbearable, and through his cynicism he tries to protect himself from the pain and disappointment of the adult world. However, the criticisms that Holden aims at people around him are also aimed at himself. He is uncomfortable with his own weaknesses, and at times displays the exact phoniness, meanness, and superficiality of the people he says he despises. The novel is written as a stream of conscience. This style, used throughout the novel, refers to the use of seemingly disjointed ideas and episodes used in an apparently random medley, but in fact in a highly structured way, that is used to illustrate a theme. For example, as Holden sits in a chair in his dorm, minor events (such as picking up a book or looking at a table) unfold into long discussions about past experiences.
1960-70-s is the period of flourishing of the Hippie counterculture. Hippies were originally part of a youth movement composed mostly of white teenagers and young adults between the ages of 15 and 25 years old. Inheriting a tradition of cultural dissent from the bohemians and the beatniks, hippies rejected established institutions, criticized middle class values, in the United Kingdom opposed nuclear weapons and in America opposed the Vietnam War, embraced aspects of non-Judeo-Christian religions, promoted sexual liberation and the use of psychedelic drugs to expand one's consciousness, and created intentional communities, leading some to describe hippies as a new religious movement.
John Ernst Steinbeck (February 27, 1902 – December 20, 1968) is one of the best-known and most widely read American writers of the 20th century. Steinbeck populated his stories with struggling characters and is often considered an exponent of the naturalist school. His characters and his stories drew on real historical conditions and events in the first half of the 20th century. His body of work reflects his wide range of interests, including marine biology, jazz, politics, philosophy, history, and myth.
“The winter of our discontent” is a story about a Long Islander named Ethan Allen Hawley who works as a clerk in a grocery store he used to own, but is now owned by an Italian immigrant. His wife and kids want more than what he can give them because of his lowly clerkship.
Literary critics have dealt with The Winter of Our Discontent in a variety of ways; some have praised it as a Steinbeck classic while others have called the book a disappointing work. Some critics claim that the regular and somewhat sloppily constructed soliloquies of Ethan Hawley illustrate a lack of style. Throughout the book, Steinbeck tends to overtly tell the reader what characters are thinking rather than allowing the plot and structure of the novel to reveal their thoughts. In various letters to friends before and after the publication of Winter, Steinbeck clearly states he wrote the novel to address the moral degeneration of American culture in the 1960s. Literary critics and scholars have condemned Winter for its poorly concealed moral emphasis, citing that the novel lacks the stylistic integrity of previous Steinbeck works.
Toni Morrison is one of the most prominent authors in world literature, having won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993 for her collected works. Several of her novels have taken their place in the canon of American literature, including The Bluest Eye, Beloved (winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction), and Song of Solomon. Morrison's writings are notable for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed African American characters. In recent years, Morrison has published a number of children's books with her son, Slade Morrison.
Beloved is a 1987 novel by Toni Morrison about the legacy of slavery. It won Morrison the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988. The novel is loosely based on the life and legal case of Margaret Garner, about whom Morrison later wrote in the opera of the same name.
The book follows the story of African Americans Sethe (pronounced "Seth-uh") and her daughter Denver as they try to rebuild their lives after having escaped from slavery. One day, a young lady shows up at their house, saying that her name is "Beloved." Sethe comes to believe that the girl is another of her daughters, whom Sethe murdered by slitting her throat with a handsaw when she was only two years old to save her from a life of slavery, and whose tombstone reads "Beloved." Beloved's return consumes Sethe to the point where she ignores her other daughter and even her own needs, while Beloved becomes more and more demanding.
The novel follows in the tradition of slave narratives, but also confronts the more painful and taboo aspects of slavery, such as sexual abuse and violence. Morrison feels these issues were avoided in the traditional slave narratives. In the novel, she explores the effects on the characters, Paul D and Sethe, of trying to repress - and then come to terms with - the painful memories of their past.
Beloved is a novel based on the impact of slavery and of the emancipation of slaves on individual black people. There are several themes that remain central to the novel:
The concept of motherhood within Beloved is as an overarching and overwhelming love that can conquer all, strongly typified within the novel by the character Sethe, whose very name is the feminine of "Seth"- the Biblical 'father of the world'. Further, Sethe's escape from the slave plantation (ironically named 'Sweet Home') stems from her desire to keep the "mother of her children alive" and not from any personal survival instinct. Sethe's maternal instincts almost lead to her own destruction. We can here assume the interpretation that Beloved is a wrathful character looking to wreak revenge on Sethe for killing her, despite the fact that the murder was, in Sethe's mind, an entirely loving act.
Toni Morrison wrote Beloved on a foundation of historical events. The most significant event within the novel--the "Misery", or Sethe's murder of Beloved--is based on an actual historical event. In 1856, Margaret Garner murdered her children to prevent them from being recaptured and taken back into slavery with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Morrison admits to "an obsession" with this account after she discovered it while helping edit a scrapbook on African-American history. The novel itself can be seen as the reworking of fact into something with a very emotional central message. History is woven throughout the novel. The Middle Passage is referenced along with the Underground Railway in many parts of the novel; the 'Sixty Million and More' to whom Morrison dedicates the novel may refer to the many who died during the Middle Passage. The entire concept of the slavery described in the novel: Paul D's confinement in Georgia, ideas such as the "bit" and the legislature described are all based on history. This gives the novel a powerful impact.
Beloved's appearance reawakens memories of slavery among the other characters, and they are forced to deal with their past instead of trying to repress their memories. Reincarnation and rebirth are also themes in this novel.
Again, the concept of manhood is important within Beloved. Paul D is the only developed example of a male character, and is "the kind of man who could walk into a house and make the women cry. Because with him, in his presence, they could. Cry and tell him things they only told each other". He is, however, emotionally crippled and is forced to keep his emotions locked inside a "tobacco tin"- a box "rusted shut." This is a metaphor for the way in which he must control his feelings to survive. During the chain-gang period, his hands uncontrollably shake until he can learn to trap his emotions and effectively lock them away. It takes Beloved to release him, shown by the uncontrolled repetition of "Red Heart. Red Heart..." Within the novel, the male is significantly weaker than the female, one reason being there is no other developed male character other than Paul D to test the strength of women in the novel against, all others being the past opressors of Sethe and other former slaves. Paul D cannot cope with the extreme demonstration of love exemplified by Sethe's murder of Beloved and leaves. Still, the book ends with Paul D coming back "to put his story next to hers", a display of his courage and mature love, if crippled by his slavery ordeal. Leaving the readers without ultimate answers, Toni Morrison concludes on a hopeful note, with Paul D trying to explain troubled and past-obsessed Sethe that "[she] is [her] best thing", and not her murdered child.
Many of the areas of the novel, but particularly the monologues, are ambiguous. At times, the prose breaks down so far as to make it unintelligible who is being spoken to, or about what. The most strongly ambiguous character within the novel is Beloved herself. There are two potential interpretations of her character. The first is of her as the displaced child ghost in an adult body. The second is of her as, as Stamp Paid puts it, "a girl locked up by a white man over by Deer Creek. Found him dead last summer and the girl gone. Maybe that's her". Both are supportable by the text. The concept that Beloved is the re-incarnated child is supported by her knowledge of the song that "nobody knows but me and my children" and her knowledge of Sethe's earrings but it is also true that the characters have a psychological need for Beloved- Sethe can assuage her guilt over the death of her child, and Denver gains a playmate, or even more. This is an important narrative technique. The reader is forced to be active rather than passive, and is made to work to discover what is going on. The emphasis is on interpretation rather than on what the author says. (cf. Roland Barthes, 'the death of the author')
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