|Abstract or Summary
- My primary purpose in this thesis is to continue the refocused attention given to American "proletarian" fiction of the 1930's. Because of their politics and supposed artistic inferiority, many of these works have been marginalized by American literary critics. However, many contemporary scholars are reconsidering this genre and devoting more time to studying the insights it offers into understanding the relationship of political ideology to artistic creation, to understanding the history of the Communist Party in the United States, and for the ways in which it contributes to Postmodern cultural studies.
Part One of this thesis is an attempt to recreate the critical ambience that surrounded proletarian fiction by summarizing the literary and political issues that fueled the debates among authors and critics. Contemporaneous and more recent scholarship is considered. The major point of this portion of the thesis is to illustrate the ways in which this literary movement's progression towards its ultimate goal was constrained by its own ideological limits.
Part Two of this thesis is a close rereading of six proletarian novels written in response to the textile worker's strike at the Lora, Mill in Gastonia, North Carolina, in 1929. The drama of the strike acts as a "control group" of sorts which I have used to
show how different authors approach the same subject matter. The ways in which each author conforms or deviates from the proletarian aesthetic is considered, and a comparative study emerges that illuminates the possibilities and limits of each work and
of the Communist ambience that informed them.
This close reading of these six novels sheds light on issues that have not as yet been discussed in any critical forum. In addition, this thesis illustrates the ways in which our sense of identity and political agency is historically conditioned. These findings are relevant to current cultural studies that center on the role of ideology in society. They also provide evidence of how politics affects the writing of history.
The ultimate goal is to provide reasons why proletarian fiction should be reintroduced, more centrally, in American literary studies. Only through a better understanding of the past can we come to understand the present and the future, and how artists and the creative imagination can play central roles in the quest for social justice.