October 19, 2005

Intellectual Expatriates

America between the World Wars was an interesting place to live, to say the least. Prohibition, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, the New Deal . . . okay, maybe not that last part so much. But this period of American history finally brings me within the realm that I hope to cover in my major paper for the course: the impact of the Southern Literary Renaissance on the South (fuzzily dated 1929-1965). The 1930s sees the emergence of the early renaissance writers: Faulkner, Caldwell, and Wolfe (to name the major voices).

These three authors were native Southerners writing about their home ground in a . . . well, less than flattering light. But our reading this week was packed to the limit with authors of the 1920s who were dissatisfied with the society and economic systems they saw around them: Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and a host of minor names I'd never encountered before. What makes the Southern voices so unique and noticeable?

I would guess that the key difference lies in what and who they were writing against. Upton Sinclair wrote an expose on the horrific practices of a meat-packing company, skewering a faceless corporation motivated by greed to disregard the consequences of their policies on everyone. Sinclair Lewis wrote about the closed minds and soulless existences of white-collar America, a faceless mass who only really harmed themselves through their actions. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about the destructiveness of amoral and hedonistic upper-class lifestyles. All of these authors were writing against the current of the populace, and many of the very people they targeted loved them for it.

But Faulkner, Caldwell, and Wolfe, and the Southern writers who came after them, were writing about blind prejudice and a backwards mentality which were keeping the entire region socially, economically, and mentally tied to an anachronistic ideal. The South was unable to develop past a certain point, and the results were poverty, ignorance, and discrimanation (to name a few). And Southern authors were not simply speaking out against these problems, nor were they addressing a faceless mass. Southern authors were condemning their own relatives, their own friends, the citizens of the small towns they grew up in. They were traitors and infidels. At least that's what their former friends and scandalized relatives called them.

The literature of the South during this period comprises a more significant, poignant, and truly revolutionary body of work because the writing of it required sufficient intellectual strength to tear loose of the generations-old mores surrounding these authors, and sufficient moral courage to speak out against people they knew personally.

Expect to see me develop this theme further before the end of the semester, but for now, that's all I've got.

Posted by Jared at October 19, 2005 11:59 PM | TrackBack