So far as I am concerned, what had been the twenties ended that night. We would try to penetrate the fogs to come, to listen to the buoys, to read the charts. It would be three years before we took down a volume of Kunstgeschichte from our shelves to be replaced by a thin narrow book in red entitled What Is To Be Done?, by V. I. Lenin. Then in a few years it would be taken down to be replaced by another. And so on.1
The time was August 23, 1927; Sacco and Vanzetti had been executed. But for Josephine Herbst this political event, significant as it was, did not in itself mark the end of an era. For it was also on that day that she and John Herrmann were forced to abandon their twenty-three foot ketch after a difficult passage through thick fog.2 In her brilliant memoir of the year 1927 - "A Year of Disgrace"ÄMiss Herbst demonstrates the extraordinary complexity that results from the mixture of private misfortune and public joys, public disasters and private triumphs, personal seekings and social developments. In April, for example, there were: the discovery of John Herrmann's illness and the happy preparations for the boating venture in Maine; the scandal and excitement of Antheil's Ballet-M‚canique at Carnegie Hall and Miss Herbst's unfulfilled longing to be moved by the music as her friends had been; and the death sentence irrevocably passed on Sacco and Vanzetti, crushing to those who had come to believe so fervently in their innocence.
This very mixture of events of different kinds and qualities provides a lesson. The past is not preserved for the historian as his private domain. Myth, memory, historyÄthese are three alternative ways to capture and account for an allusive past, each with its own persuasive claim. The very complexities of the record raise questions about the task of reconstruction in any form. Miss Herbst, for example, is wise enough to ask:
But is there such a thing as the twenties? The decade simply falls apart upon examination into crumbs and pieces which completely contradict each other in their essences. The twenties were not at all the museum piece it has since become where our literary curators have posed on elevated pedestals a few busts of the eminent. Even individual characters cannot be studied in a state of static immobility. It was all flux and change with artistic movements evolving into political crises, and where ideas of social service, justice, and religious reaction had their special spokesman.3
So complex, so varied are events and motives that Erich Auerbach shrewdly suggests, "To write history is so difficult that most historians are forced to make concessions to the technique of the legend."4 For no matter how great the difficulties, each of usÄin his private capacity or as propagandist or as historianÄdemands some order, some form, from the past. (In spite of her own questions about the nature of the twenties, Miss Herbst's personal reconstruction dates the "end" of the period with precision.) Yet for the maker of myths, the propagandist for a cause, the memoirist and the historian there are frequently different, compelling psychological and social needs dictating different forms and different ways of reconstruction.
Memory is often the historian's most potent ally. But hovering as it does in that strange psychological zone between nostalgia and regret it can often strike out on its own, producing not so much the ordered vision of the past the historian aims to develop as a picture of The Past (even a lurid Past) in the Victorian sense. What had seemed so right at the moment it happened becomes in retrospect not only wrong but criminal.5 The personal needs of the present demand of the memoir writer a strangely skewed version of what happened.6 In the time of Hiss trials and McCarthy accusations, the thirties appeared to be a period dominated by ideological commitment to Stalinism. Even for those who opposed "witch-hunting" there was a lesson to be learned from the "tragic innocence" of the 1930's: avoid any ideology at all cost.7 Yet sober historical evaluation, confirming the fact of an obvious movement toward the political left by many American intellectuals, raises serious questions about how deep and how significantly "ideological" such political interest was.8 An examination of the literature of the period reveals an enormous number of tracts, polemics, political, social, and economic analyses but when one looks for major contributions to the literature of ideologyÄif such a phrase can be usedÄthe only work that seems to stand out as read by "everyone" and regarded as a "powerful instrument" is The Coming Struggle for Power by England's John Strachey.9 Today it is hard to regard that work as a serious ideological contribution and the historian must be a little puzzled that a period regarded as so heavily ideological failed to produce a Lenin or a Gramsci, or indeed even a moderately significant contribution to the literature of ideology. Ideology may indeed have been important in the thirties, but many of the most brilliant and long-lasting contributions to political analysis written in the period were distinctly anti-ideological.10
Certainly there was a movement Left; certainly there was a change in the intellectual and literary climate. As George Orwell put it when discussing the English-speaking literary community:
Suddenly we got out of the twilight of the gods into a sort of Boy Scout; atmosphere of bare knees and community singing. The typical literary man ceases to be a cultured expatriate with a leaning towards the Church, and becomes an eager-minded schoolboy with a leaning towards communism. If the keynote of the writers of the 'twenties is "tragic sense of life," the key- note of the new writers is "serious purpose.''l1
But it is all too easy to see a political thirties contrasting dramatically with an apolitical twenties. And while memory seems to demand of the figures of the 1930's a mea culpa for having joined the Communist Party or having been a "fellow traveller" (as that period itself demanded of the writers of the 1920's a mea culpa for having been duped into ex- patriation or into some "art-for-art's-sake" movement), history demands an examination of the deeper issues that underlay such cries of regret.
The 1960's forced memory to look again at the 1930's and this time with considerable nostalgia. Fashions in clothes and furniture return to the decade for inspiration.l2 Some of what Susan Sontag has charac- terized under the rubric of "camp" represents an effort to recapture the' mood of the thirties, its films, its radio programs, its heroes. The literary market place suddenly rediscovers novels virtually unread and critically` ignored in the period and now hailed as significant: Nelson Algren's Somebody in Boots, the works of Nathanael West, Daniel Fuchs' trilogy, Henry Roth's novel of immigrant life, and even Horace McCoy's "existentialist" treatment of the dance marathon craze, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?13 Several anthologies of the writings of the period have appeared, each discovering a verve and importance in the literary output of the period previously denied or overlooked.l4 And some of the collected memories of the period reenforce significant new scholarship that reveals not only a fascination with the "proletariat" and a literature and reportage concerned with industrial workers, strikes, and coming revolution, but also a widespread agrarian utopianism, in the North as well as in the South, a deep interest in communitarian ventures that smacks more of the America of Brook Farm than of the U.S.S.R. of Five-Year Plans.l5
The past summoned up before us by the forces of memory is important; it is part of the record that cannot be ignored. But because it serves the special functions that memory demands, because it is often colored by nostalgia or regret, the historian must be on his guard. He is obligated to seek some more solid foundation that will hold in spite of the psychological and social demands of the moment. In building this vision of the thirties the historian does not seek to debunk what the memoir writers recall or what has been written previously about the period, but rather to understand it all in a way that helps, at least, account for the complexities and contradictions, the confusions of flux and change.
In sketching this structure no fact is more significant than the general and even popular "discovery" of the concept of culture. Obviously the idea of culture was anything but new in the 1930's, but there is a special sense in which the idea became widespread in the period.l6 What had been discovered was "the inescapable interrelatedness of. . . things" so that culture could no longer be considered what Matthew Arnold and the intellectuals of previous generations had often meantÄthe knowledge of the highest achievements of men of intellect and art through historyÄbut rather reference to "all the things that a group of people inhabiting a common geographical area do, the ways they do things and the ways they think and feel about things, their material tools and their values and symbols.''l7 The remarkable popu- larity of Ruth Benedict's Patterns of Culture (1934)Äsurely one of the most widely read works of professional anthropology ever published in the United StatesÄprovides us with a symbolic landmark. Its impact was significant; but more important, her analysis of the possibility of different cultural patterns and the way such patterns shape and account for individual behavior itself was part of a more general discovery of the idea itself, the sense of awareness of what it means to be a culture, or the search to become a kind of culture. "The quest for culture," one student of the problem suggests, "is the search for meaning and value.''l8 It is not too extreme to propose that it was during the thirties that the idea of culture was domesticated, with important consequences. Americans then began thinking in terms of patterns of behavior and belief, values and life-styles, symbols and meanings. It was during this period that we find, for the first time, frequent reference to "an American Way of Life." The phrase "The American Dream" came into common use; it meant something shared collectively by all Americans, yet something different than the vision of an American Mission, the function of the organized nation itself.lg It is not surprising that H. L. Mencken believed (erroneously it appears) that the expression "grass roots" was coined in the 1930's, for during the decade it became a characteristic phrase.20 The "promises" that MacLeish insisted were America contrast dramatically in image, rhetoric, and kind from The Promise of American Life Herbert Croly discussed in the Progressive Era. For Croly that promise depended on a definition of democracy and the creation of new institutional patterns divorced from history; it involved political, social, and economic readjustments. But for MacLeish the promises could be best found within history, a special kind of folk-history:
Declared it before God and before history
Declares it still in the remembering tomb.
The promises were Man's; the land was hisÄ
Man endowed by his Creator:
Earnest in love; perfectible by reason:
Just and perceiving justice: his natural nature
Clear and sweet at the source as springs in trees are.
It was Man who had been promised: who should have.
Man was to ride from the Tidewater: over the Gap:
West and South with the water: taking the book with him:
Taking the wheat seed: corn seed: pip of apple:
Building liberty a farmyard wide:
Breeding for useful labor: for good looks:
For husbandry: humanity: for prideÄ
Practicing self-respect and common decency.21
Clearly the two works differ in form and purpose. Further, it is obvious that we can discover common values and beliefs in the writings of the Progressive and the poet. But it is still proper to suggest that in the work of the thirties MacLeish actually proposes a redefinition of the promise of American life, placing great emphasis on what we might call the cultural visions: questions of life-style, patterns of belief and conduct, special values and attitudes which constitute the characteristics of a special people.
It is said all too often, that certain extremely popular works of fiction obtained their popular hold because they provided a means of escape from contemporary problems. It is not possible to deny this. But from . the point of view of an increased interest in a particular life style, in patterns of belief and their consequences, as well as in the consequences of the destruction of such cultures, it becomes possible to read in a different light the enthusiastic reception given to Oliver LaFarge's Laughing Boy (1929), with its touching and even sentimental plea for cultural pluralism (only one of many works in the period recalling a rich American tradition of works dating back at least to Cooper in which the Indian's admired "culture" is threatened by the White Man's "civilization"), or to Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind (1936), with its historical reconstruction of the destruction of a way of life (again, only one of many historical romances in the 1930's recounting in extraordinary detail life-styles and values different from those of the 1930's).22 In 1931 Stuart Chase produced a best-seller: Mexico, A Study of Two Americas. The book was to play an important role in the whole discussion of the nature of culture, especially "popular culture."23 But even more important it made explicit for a large audience the very kind of distinction that became increasingly characteristic of the period. Drawing specifically not only on his own experiences but on the works of American social scientists (the Lynds' study of Middletown and Robert Redfield's analysis of a Mexican community), Chase sharply contrasted the urban-industrial culture of the United States and the folk-culture of a more primitivist and traditional Mexico. While the United States might well have the advantages that come with "civilization," the author of Mexico clearly found special benefits in the simple folkways of Tepoztlan. It was a community free of the business cycle and mechanical civilization, an "organic, breathing entity." While it had no machines, it was "impossible for Mexicans to produce the humblest thing without form and design." Time was measured by sun and climate, not by clocks. The clock was "perhaps the most tyrannical engine ever invented. To live beyond its lash is an experience in liberty which comes to few citizens of the machine age." The villages are self-sustaining. The men want neither money nor the things money can buy. And perhaps most important, Chase frequently sees in Tepoztlan echoes of what American life itself once was before machine-age Middletown developed "a culture which has found neither dignity nor unity." "While each family harvests its own fields, community spirit is strongÄas in old New England barn railings. For machineless men generally, it is both necessity and pleasure to assist, and be assisted by, one's neighbor" or "When all is said and done, [the government, a kind of village communism] is 'a form of play.' Thus the working of the sublime principles of Jeffersonian democracy in Tepoztlan."24
As early as 1922 William Fielding Ogburn had defined the concept of "cultural lag."25 But again, it was in the 1930's that the phrase and its implications became part of common discourse. "The depression has made us acutely aware of the fact that our brililant technological skills are shackled to the shambling gait of an institutional Caliban," one of our most brilliant and widely read sociologists declared; his was an urgent appeal for a social science devoted to the study of the whole culture in the endeavor, to develop the consequences of such knowledge for man.28 And the distinguished historian Carl Becker mournfully announced that:
Mankind has entered a new phase of human progressÄa time in which the acquisition of new implements of power too swiftly outruns the necessary adjustment of habits and ideas to novel conditions created by their use.27
This is a far cry from the glorious hopes of a Progressive Era when "progress," "power," and indeed "efficiency" or "organization" were magic words; when it was felt that the application of the very techniques of the Communications Revolution might create a more desirable community and society.
It is in fact possible to define as a key structural element in a historical reconstruction of the 1930's the effort to find, characterize, and adapt to an American Way of Life as distinguished from the material achievements (and the failures) of an American industrial civilization. Civilization meant technology, scientific achievement, institutions and organizations, power and material (financial) success. The battle between "culture" and "civilization," between the quality of living and the material, organized advancement of life was anything but new as an intellectual issue.28 But the theme becomes central in the 1930's and even those older followers of the Progressive tradition who valued the march of civilization and progress sought to emulate Thorstein Veblen and make from an industrial civilization a meaningful culture or way of life.29
However, civilization itselfÄin its urban-industrial formÄseemed increasingly the enemy. It stood for the electricity that was used to destroy Sacco and Vanzetti;30 or, as the hero of Algren's novel muses, "'Civilization' must mean a thing much like that mob that had threat- ened his father.''31 Writers as different in other ways as Reinhold Niebuhr and Lewis Mumford wondered whether the civilization that had triumphed was in fact worthy of the highest aspirations of man. The increased interest in the social sciences in the period, and the tendency to point to the failure of the natural sciences to solve man's problems are additional evidence for a new-found cultural awareness; we may add the growth of serious study of popular culture, of cultures other than our own, or the remains of folk or other subcultures within our own.32
Again, the effort to define precisely the nature of American culture itselfÄas it had been historically and as it was nowÄcharacteristic of so much of the writing of the 1930's is no new effort, but it appears more widespread and central than in any time previous. (This effort is also distinctly different from that which seeks to show the development of the achievements of civilization in the United States.) Constance Rourke's American Humor (significantly subtitled A Study in National Character) (1931) and her essay on "The Roots of American Culture" provide special landmarks. Miss Rourke did not devote herself to an analysis of the great contributors to Culture; she sought rather to find the significant culture patterns to which she might relate such figures and from which they could and must draw their material. And when Van Wyck Brooks emerged from long silence in 1936 with The Flowering of New England to begin his monumental multi-volume cultural history, he had not so much changed his way of thinkingÄhe still sought a usable past, some meeting ground between highbrow and lowbrowÄ as his method of analysis. Following in some sense the lead of Miss Rourke, he attempted in his own way to discover the basic patterns of culture, basic values and attitudes, using minor and forgotten figures as well as the major writers to show the underlying structure of the culture from which they came.33
The issue then, is not that the 1930's simply produced a new era of nationalism.34 Certainly few, if any, decades in our history could claim the production of such a vast literatureÄto say nothing of a vast body of films, recordings, and paintingsÄwhich described and defined every aspect of American life. It was not, then, simply that many writers and artists and critics began to sing glowingly of American life and its past. It was rather, the more complex effort to seek and to define America as a culture and to create the patterns of a way of life worth understanding. The movement had begun in the 1920's; by the 1930's it was a crusade. America in Search of Culture William Aylott Orton had called his not always friendly analysis of the phenomenon of 1933. The search was to continue throughout the decade in the most overwhelming effort ever attempted to document in art, reportage, social science, and history the life and values of the American people.35
If there was an increased awareness of the concept of culture and its implications as well as a growing self-consciousness of an American Way or a native culture of value, there were also forces operating to shape that culture into a heightened sensitivity of itself as a culture. The development of systematic and supposedly scientific methods of measur- ing the way "the people" thought and believed is certainly one importent example. The idea of public opinion was an old one (it can be traced back at least to de Tocqueville) and the political, social, and even economic consequences of such opinion had been studied by a number of serious students: Lowell, Lippmann, and Bernays, to point to the most obvious examples. The Creel Committee of World War I days had already paid careful attention to the advantages and special techniques of manipulating such opinion. But it was not until 1935, when George Gallup established the American Institute of Public Opinion, that "polling" became commonplace in American life. Now Americans had "empirical" evidence of how they felt and thought regarding the major issues of the day and generally shared attitudes and beliefs. It was easier now to find the core of values and opinions which united Americans, the symbols which tied them together, which helped define the American Way. It was not just the discovery of techniques that might be manipulated by experts to produce desired results, although this was a part of what happened; the polls themselves became a force, an instrument of significance, not only for the discovery and molding of dominant cultural patterns, but also for their reinforcement.38
Other technological developments played an even more vital role. The decade of the thirties was a most dramatic era of sound and sight. It is impossible to recall the period without recourse to special sounds: the "talkies," the machine-gun precision of the dancing feet in Busby Berkeley's musical extravaganzas, the "Big Bands," the voices of Amos and Andy, to say nothing of the magic of Franklin Roosevelt's Fireside Addresses. For our immediate purposes, examples of the consequences of a new age of sound can best be found by looking briefly at some of the effects of national radio networks. Through their radio sets a unique view of the world, and a way of interpreting it came to the American people. Nothing more dramatically illustrates the power of this new-found sound medium than the response of the Orson Welles Mercury Theater dramatization of H. G. Wells' story of a supposed Martian invasion. Using the recently developed news broadcasting techniques expertly Welles' company made thousands accept (as they were used to accepting) the rhetoric of a radio show as a description of reality; the resulting panic is famous.37 Sound helped mold uniform national responses; it helped create or reinforce uniform national values and beliefs in a way that no previous medium had ever before been able to do. Roosevelt was able to create a new kind of presidency and a new kind of political and social power partly through his brilliant use of the medium.
The photograph and the film, too, changed the nature of cultural communication in America. Unlike the printed word in newspapers and books, the photograph affected even those who could not or would not read. The thirties brought home the impact of the image created by the photograph in a more universal way. Life, founded in 1936, can perhaps be credited with the invention of the "picture essay"; however, it is but one example of the novel way Americans could experience the world. Luce's extraordinary empire also produced "The March of Time," the most brilliant of the newly developed newsreels which provided a fresh way of understanding events. The whole idea of the documentaryÄnot with words alone but with sight and soundÄmakes it possible to see, know, and feel the details of life, its styles in different places, to feel oneself part of some other's experience.38
We are not yet in a position to evaluate the full consequence of these events. But certainly it is possible to suggest that the newly developed media and their special kinds of appeal helped reinforce a social order rapidly disintegrating under economic and social pressures that were too great to endure, and helped create an environment in which the sharing of common experience, be they of hunger, dust- bowls, or war, made the uniform demand for action and reform more striking and urgent. The unity provided deserves some special role in the story of the 1930's. Whatever else that might be said about the New Deal, its successes and its failures, it is obviously true that it was a sociological and psychological triumph. From the very outset of his presidential campaign in 1932, Franklin Roosevelt showed himself fully aware of the importance of symbols. "Let it be symbolic," he told the Convention that had nominated him, in his acceptance speech made after an unprecedented flight to Chicago to receive personally the leadership bestowed upon him, "that I broke the tradition. Let it be from now on the task of our Party to break foolish traditions."39 The history of the ill-fated N.R.A. offers a series of examples of a brilliant sense for the symbolic in the administration itself: the Blue Eagle, the display of flags, the parades. Roosevelt on radio was to reach out to each Ameri- can in his living room and make him feel that the Administration was thinking specifically of him, that he had a place in society. The film and the picture-essay brought the figures of power, in every aspect of their activity, personal as well as public, into the immediate experience of most Americans.
Even the lowly soap opera, the most frequently mocked of radio's innovations, played a role in reinforcing fundamental values and in providing the intimate experience of other people's lives so that millions of housewives knew they were neither alone nor unique in their problems. Timeless and consistent in portraying patterns of crisis and recovery, they provided a sense of continuity, assuring the triumph of generally shared values and beliefs, no matter what "reality" in the form of social and economic conditions might suggest.40
It is possible to see in the notorious "soaps" the operation of what might be called the force and power of myth. In his famous American Writer's Congress address in 1935, Kenneth Burke analyzed the function of myth in society. He argued that a myth was "the social tool for welding a sense of interrelationship by which the carpenter and the mechanic, though differently occupied, can work together for a common social end.''41 He was concerned, it is true, in this paper with the role of revolutionary myths and symbols. But an analysis of the 1930's reveals how significant a role the new media played in providing a huge public with a body of symbols and myths. In this sense it might not be unfair to consider the extraordinary mythic role the absurd soap opera played. The form may appear ridiculous to some today, but then so do many myths once socially operative which are nonetheless later discarded.
The photograph, the radio, the moving pictureÄthese were not new, but the sophisticated uses to which they were put created a special community of all Americans (possibly an international community) un- thinkable previously. The shift to a culture of sight and sound was of profound importance; it increased our self-awareness as a culture; it helped create a unity of response and action not previously possible; it made us more susceptible than ever to those who would mold culture and thought. In this connection it is possible to see how these develop- ments also heightened a growing interest among social and political thinkers in the role of symbol, myth, and rhetoric. Kenneth Burke's study of the significance of Hitler's rhetoric and of the importance of the careful development of revolutionary symbolism in the U.S. showed how important such factors were in shaping cultures, the vast power (and therefore dangers) involved in language and symbol.42 The major works of Thurmond Arnold, one of the more original thinkers of the period, deal with political life not in terms of ideology or the rational implementation of philosophies, but in terms of the role of "folklore" and symbols.43 And perhaps the leading academic student of political life, Harold Lasswell, developed a whole school of political analysis dealing with psychological and sociological factors barely touched on in previous periods.44 While a Progressive generation was much in- terested in problems of communications and even made small but significant use of the photograph, the painting, the cartoon, it is not possible to compare this with the developments in the 1930's, when an unusual sense of sight and sound, a peculiar interest in symbol, myth and language, created a novel kind of community, breaking down bar- riers, creating often new common experiences for millions. For no matter how great its interest in communication, how deep its concern for the social role of the arts, the Progressives relied primarily and most profoundly on the written word, the rational argument on the printed page. They were a generation of writers who produced an enormous political literature; but they did not and could not make their appeal to the ear and eye, with a sense of symbol and rhetoric that compared to the stunning techniques and e'ects developed during the 1930's. One significant difference between the two eras is this: the Progressives were people of the book; the children of the 1930's were people of the pic- ture and the radio.
In a stimulating essay on "The New Deal as a Cultural Phenomenon," T. V. Smith suggests that "sportsmanship is the key to contemporary American life." Speaking of the American way of life itself, Smith argues:
the game is a fitting symbol. Long before baseball came to furnish the chief metaphor of American life there was (and there remains) another gameÄa game of cards: 'poker' it is calledÄin which 'to deal' was but to initiate a cooperative activity that could be its own exciting reward, even to those who 'lost their shirts' in its honor. Politics is in common American parlance a game, and in expert parlance it is 'the great American game.' Moreover, the symbolism carried over into business: a deal is a trade, any transaction for gain from which both sides are presumed to profit. Thus the very name of the Rooseveltian movement in question raises connotative echoes in the culture organic to America, in its full multi-dimensionality.45
In this passage Smith has done more than to suggest additional evidence about the cultural responsiveness of the New Deal in its selection of symbols. For culture is reflected in and shaped by its games, something analysts writing in the 1930's themselves understood.46 Most social historians take great pains to point out the significant increase in popular participation in sports, the development of new games and fads, the enormous increase in various forms of gambling in the period.47 Too often, once again, these facts are explained as the search for escape Äa truism to be sureÄwhen they demand more fundamental analysis in terms of the kind of escape they propose. The dramatic increase is in special types of gaming, games of competition and chance, games frequently involving cooperation and carefully arranged regulations and limits. The "democratization" of golf and tennis in the 1930's provides a special outlet for the competitive spirit the traditional values of the culture demands and which cannot easily be satisfied in the "real" world of economic and social life. The Parker Brothers' fantastically successful board game "Monopoly" enables would be entrepreneurs to "make a killing" of the kind the economic conditions of the times all but prohibited. Dance marathons, roller derbies, six-day bicycle races, flagpole sitting contests, goldfish-swallowing competitionsÄthese are not just foolish ways out of the rat-race, but rather alternative (if socially marginal) patterns duplicating in structure what institutionalized society demanded and normally assumed it could provide. Thus the bank-nights and the Bingo games, the extraordinary interest in the Irish Sweepstakes, the whole range of patterns of "luck" and "success" offered on the fringes of social respectability but certainly within the range of social acceptance Äthese provided a way to maintain and reinforce essential values, to keep alive a sense of hope. Roger Caillois, in his brilliant book Man, Play and Games, suggests that there are "corruptions" of games as well as cultural forms found at the margins of the social order: resort to violence, superstition, alienation and even mental illness, alcoholism and the taking of drugs.48 Certainly there is evidence that among some elements in the population such corruptions could be found in the 1930's. Yet the striking fact remains that the increase in the particular kind of games that did dominate that aspect of life in the 1930's tended to provide significant social reenforcement. Even the dances of the period marked a return to an almost folk-style pattern of large-scale participation and close cooperation. The holding of block parties which took place even in slum areas of large cities indicates special qualities of life in the 1930's, a fact not overlooked by those whose memory of the period is colored by nostalgia.
As Caillois tells us:
Any corruption of the principle of play means the abandonment of those precarious and doubtful conventions that it is always permissible, if not profitable, to deny, but arduous adoption of which is a milestone in the development of civilization. If principles of play in effect correspond to power instincts..., it is readily understood that they can be positively and creatively gratified under ideal and circumscribed conditions, which in every case prevail in the rules of play. Left to themselves, destructive and frantic as are all instincts, these basic impulses can hardly lead to any but disastrous consequences. Games discipline instincts and institutionalize them. For the time that they afford formal and limited satisfaction, they educate, enrich, and immunize the mind against their virulence. At the same time, they are made fit to contribute usefully to the enrichment and the estab- lishment of various patterns of culture.49
Commentators are right then, to indicate the importance of the kind of games played in the 1930's.
There is also the widespread and continuous use of the game metaphorÄnot only in the business and politics of the periodÄuseful to writers in indicating the meaning or the meaninglessness of life. When Robert Sherwood sought an appropriate image for the fatuous and yet vicious forces of nationalism and international business, he too selected a game of cards. In his pacifist assault on those forces, insensitive to the human condition and hell-bent on destruction, he allows his heroine to speak of God:
Yes. . . We don't do half enough justice to Him. Poor, lonely old soul. Sitting up there in heaven, with nothing to do, but play solitaire. Poor, dear God. Playing Idiot's Delight. The game that never means anything, and never ends.50
And from another perspective entirely, William Saroyan built his sentimental tribute to the gentle, innocent, and good American people out of a whole series of games and toys. Most memorable, perhaps, is the pin-ball machine that the bartender assures Willie he cannot beat. Willie undertakes to try; he
stands straight and pious before the contest. Himself vs. the machine. Willie vs. Destiny. His skill and daring vs. the cunning and trickery of the novelty industry of America, and the whole challenging world. He is the last of the American pioneers, with nothing more to fight but the machine, with no other reward than lights going on and off, and six nickels for one. Before him is the last champion, the machine. He is the last challenger....
In the last act of The Time of Your Life Willie finally beats the machine. Saroyan tells us "the machine groans." And then
the machine begins to make a special kind of noise. Lights go on and off. Some red, some green. A bell rings loudly six times.... An American flag jumps up. Willie comes to attention. Salutes. 'Oh boy (he says) what a beautiful country. A loud music-box version of the song 'America.' (Every- one in the barroom rises, singing). 'My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.' Everything quiets down .... Willie is thrilled, amazed, delighted. Everybody has watched the performance of the defeated machine. 51
The analysis of the structure that underlies an historical picture of the 1930's suggests some tentative conclusions at this point. First, there was in the discovery of the idea of culture and its wide-scale application a critical tool that could shape a critical ideal, especially as it was directed repeatedly against the failures and meaninglessness of an urban- industrial civilization. Yet often it was developed in such ways as to provide significant devices for conserving much of the existing structure. A search for the "real" America could become a new kind of nationalism; the idea of an American Way could reinforce conformity. The reliance on basic culture patterns, stressed by further development of public opinion, studies of myth, symbol, folklore, the new techniques of the mass media, even the games of the period could and did have results far more conservative than radical, no matter what the intentions of those who originally championed some of the ideas and efforts.
Other studies bear out this conservative trendÄno matter what memory may tell us about disorganization and a Red menace. The Lynds' return to Middletown in the 1930's led to the discovery that the schools of that community, for example, had had their heyday of freedom in education in the 1920's; by 1935 "the culture was tightening its grip on the schools to insure that 'only the right things' were being taught."52 And perhaps the most significant experiment in higher education in the decade under Robert M. Hutchins at the University of Chicago can be considered an effort to reassert traditional values and standards in a retreat from the educational philosophy of the supposed followers of John Dewey. An important study of white acceptance of jazz documents the fact that when such music left the confines of the smaller Negro subculture and achieved wide-scale circulation and popularity in the larger national community through radio, records, and the "Big Bands" of the period, the lyrics of older jazz and blues as well as new works created tended to lack the bite and social criticism found in the jazz of the 1920's and earlier. In fact, lyrics tended to be bland, mouthing even more forcefully the commonplace and accepted values and beliefs, personal and social.53
In no field, however, was the consequence of the new approach stressing the role of existing patterns of culture to be as significant and striking as in the realm of popular psychology, or in that strange combination of religion and psychology that frequently ruled in the 1930's as a substitute for liberal protestantism, as Donald Meyer has brilliantly shown.54 Any student of the 1930's cannot but be impressed with the enormous body of literature designed to instruct and inform on ways to succeed.55 It was the great age of the "How-to-do-it" book. But what is most unusual about all such literature, in view of the enormous critical assault on capitalism and even the widely held assumption among many, right, left, and center, that capitalism was doomed, is its initial principle: failure is personal, not social, and success can be achieved by some adjustment, not in the social order but in the individual personality. Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People was the best seller of the period, and its publication in 1936 is a landmark for the study of American popular culture. In simplest terms, Carnegie called for adjustment to the existing order. Everyone wanted to feel important; the way to get ahead was to make other people feel important Smile! In the same year Henry C. Link published his best selling The Return to Religion. In it religion joined hands with psychology "to promote not ego strength but surrender." Urging people to "behave themselves" rather than to "know themselves," Link reemphasized the importance of work and of just keeping busy (even by dancing, playing cards or joining clubs). Most important of all was the development of personality. Link's work in psychological testing led him to invent a method of "testing" personality, a way of measuring "Personality Quo- tient." PQ was clearly more important than IQ. Make people like you; fit in; develop habits and skills "which interest and serve other people." Here again the radio soap operas played their reinforcement role. They repeated the line of Carnegie and Link: "Just Plain Bill" kept smiling and "Ma Perkins" kept busy. Everyone tried to fit in and be well liked. The wisdom of the sages of the soapsÄand few were without their wise man or womanÄfollow closely the patterns of advice suggested by the Carnegies and the Links and the Norman Vincent Peales who offered similar proposals during the decade. The stress on personal reasons for success and failure is also typical. New business ventures, relying heavily on the new methods of advertising made possible by the new media, proposed a host of products to help individuals guard against failure and perhaps even achieve success. New "diseases" could be countered with new remedies: bad breath, body odor, stained teeth, dish-pan hands. Advertising also assured us that a host of new mail-order courses might help us achieve success by home study; all we needed to do was improve our spelling or our vocabulary, learn how to develop our personalities, develop our talent for drawing or writing.56
All this stress on conforming to what was demanded by society around us, all this emphasis on "fitting in," had its more sophisticated counter- part in the newly emerging field of human relations management. In his important work in the 1930's, Elton Mayo urged adjustment to the patterns of industrial organization from the perspective not of the worker, aiming to "get ahead," but from that of the manager anxious to provide an effective and happy work force.57 Mayo speaking from a post at Harvard Business School is certainly a more learned and sophisticated student of human affairs than Dale Carnegie or Henry C. Link and yet his work strangely seems of a piece with theirs insofar as it seeks adjustment to the existing and ongoing patterns of cultural development. Other intellectuals not influenced by development in popular culture might find, interestingly enough, something at least analogous happening in other areas of professional psychology in the period. For the intellectual community the emergence of what has been called American Neo-Freudianism is undoubtedly the most important development. It may well be that in the thirties no representative work of the group was more widely read and influential than Karen Homey's The Neurotic Personality of Our Time (1937). Her analysis of the problem of anxiety argues that it is the contradictions within culture itself that bring about specific neurotic patterns in individuals. The attitudes that prev il within the culture to which we relate provide us with the basic conflicts that create our neuroses and our culture itself is patterned by the very nature of our anxieties, providing institutionalized paths of attempted escape from anxiety. The neurotic personality reflects the conflicts within the culture; the culture provides the mechanisms to escape from anxieties. It is not without reason that the Neo-Freudian position has often been accused of advocating an adjustment to the patterns of culture as a way of curing more serious problems of anxiety, and it is not completely unfair to read Neo-Freudianism in this aspect as a high brow translation of what we have already suggested marked the mainstream of popular psychology in the 1930's. 58 If the idea of culture and the self-awareness of cultural involvement play crucial roles in a structuring of the history of the 1930's, another ideaÄnot unrelated as we shall seeÄalso cannot be overlooked: the idea of commitment. A commonplace of contemporary language, the idea and its current forms came to significant fruition in the 1930's.59 Hemingway's heroes of the 1920's had a sense of obedience to a code, to be sure, but perhaps nowhere in our fiction is the basic idea brought so much to the center of consciousness as in the mystery writing of the 1930's. This genre was extraordinarily important in the period; more significant (in quality and in number of volumes published) detective fiction was produced in the decade than in any previous period.60 Unfortunately, too few historians have followed up Prof. William Aydelotte's superbly suggestive article on "The Detective Story as a Historical Source.''61 Here we cannot detail all the consequences of the popularity of the form in the 1930's. But we can look at an early and archetypical detective hero of the period and see the form the idea of commitment begins to take. Sam Spade first appears in Dashiell Hammett's masterpiece of 1930, The Maltese Falcon, and was immortalized in Humphrey Bogart's portrayal in John Huston's film version of the novel. Few who have read the book or seen the film can forget Sam's last great speech to Brigid O'Shaughnessy, the woman he loves, the woman who offers him love and money (both of which the culture values highly). Yet Brigid is a murderess and Sam vows to surrender her to the police. His argument forms a whole new cultural stance for several generations:
Listen. This isn't a damned bit of good. You'll never understand me, but I'll try once more.... When a man's partner is killed he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it. Then it happens we were in the detective business. Well, when one of your organization gets killed it's bad for business to let the killer get away with it.... Third, I'm a detective and expecting me to run criminals down and let them go free is like asking a dog to catch a rabbit and let it go. It can be done, all right, and sometimes it is done, but it's not the natural thing. ... Fourth, no matter what I wanted to do now it would be absolutely impossible for me to let you go without having myself dragged to the gallows with the others. Next, I've no reason in God's world to think I can trust you and if I did this and got away with it you'd have something on me that you could use whenever you happened to want to.... Sixth, ... since I've got something on you, I couldn't be sure you wouldn't decide to shoot a hole in me some day.... It's easy to be nuts about you.... But I don't know what that amounts to. Does anybody ever? But suppose I do? What of it? Maybe next month I won't.... Well, if I send you over I'll be sorry as hellÄI'll have some rotten nightsÄbut that'll pass.... If that doesn't mean anything to you forget it and we'll make it this: I won't because all of me wants toÄwants to say to hell with the consequences and do itÄand becauseÄGod damn youÄyou've counted on that with me the same as you counted on that with the others.... I won't play the sap for you.62
This is a remarkable passage and it is in its way especially a passage that could have come only out of the 1930's: hard, yet romantic (Spade will wait for Brigid until she is released from prison); pragmatic, yet with rigid adherence to a special code of belief and values; common- place, yet strangely elevated in mood. Most remarkable of all, Sam expects Brigid to understand and accept, and Hammett expects his audience to understand and accept. It represents a remarkable effacement of the desires of the ego and yet its adherence to a particular scheme of values (meaning at the same time the rejection of still other things of value) allows for survival itself.
The very nature of the period and of the new dominant approach in the idea of culture created special problems for the individual. To be sure, the problems suggested by "individualism" as early as the 1830's, when de Tocqueville coined the expression, was whether or not the individual could survive in an age of mass civilization and industrialization. But the effort could be made nonetheless: witness the frequently wild antinomian spirit that infected so many of the young intellectuals of the 1920's with their hopes of asserting the supremacy and persistence of their unique personalities and the survival of their own egos. But the "cultural" approach of the 1930's seemed (even as it resisted the claims of "civilization") to pose still further problems rather than easy solutions. As John Dewey explained,
The function of culture in determining what elements of human nature are dominant and their pattern or arrangement in connection with one another goes beyond any special point to which attention is called. It affects the very idea of individuality. The idea that human nature is inherently and exclusively individual is itself a product of a cultural individualistic move- ment. The idea that the mind and consciousness are intrinsically individual did not even occur to any one for much the greater part of human history.63
Thus individualism can exist only if the culture permits it, that is, if it can have a necessary function within the structure of culture itself.
There was a deep current of pessimism in the thirties about the possible survival of individualism. In 1935 Robert Sherwood gave Broadway audiences The Petrified Forest, a play in which the rootless, wandering poet-intellectual and the fiercely independent gangster both represent types doomed to extinction by society, types as dead as the trees of the Petrified Forest itself. The drive for unity and conformity (ideals often reenforced by the concept of culture itself) that appears such a striking fact in the history of the periodÄno matter how noble and desirable the endÄthreatens the survival of individualism. Karen Homey's dis- cussion of solutions to the problem of anxiety nowhere suggests a re- building of the ego so it can stand alone.64 Yet the hunger for such survival of "I" remains; the search for immortality persists as an acute source of anxiety.
Observe Edward G. Robinson's memorable characterization of the title role in Little Caesar, the film of 1931. In an early scene he explains to his friend why he must have a major career in crime. He is not fight- ing back against social injustices done him; he is not trying to escape from the ghetto and the slum. The women and the money fail to attract him and he expresses no interest in the excitement of a contest between law and outlaw. He is Ricco, he announces proudly, and "I want to be someone." In the film's final scene, lying shot and dying under a bill- board, he exclaims almost without belief, "Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Ricco?"
Thus, too, the "movements" and "ideologies" of a periodÄand certainly of the 1930'sÄhelped people to "be" somebody. Malcolm Cowley comments on the special advantages Communist Party membership afforded:
There was an enormous prestige at that time for people who belonged to the party. They were listened to as if they had received advice straight from God; as if they weren't quite inspired prophets, but had been at meetings where the word was passed down from Mount Sinai.... So they had a sort of mane that surrounded them....65
One of the few novels written in the period that could be called political, Tess Slesinger's The Unpossessed (1934), treats with considerable satiric effect the social and psychological uses to which middle-class in- tellectuals and writers put their involvement in the political Left.
Yet status and prestige represent only one part of the story of the survival of the ego. The period was one in which social anxieties heightened personal anxieties. Cowley, commenting on the large number of breakdowns among intellectuals, expresses his own belief that Party membership provided a way of helping "these people with psychological problems [who] were looking for some cure outside themselves."66 Cer- tainly the method could easily fit into one or more of the "dodges" Karen Homey tells us we build into our culture in our effort to escape our anxieties. Katherine Anne Porter, writing in 1939, saw the political tendency since 1930 as:
to the last degree a confused, struggling, drowning-man-and-straw sort of thing, stampede of panicked crowd, each man trying to save himselfÄone at a time trying to work out his horrible confusions. . . I suffer from it, and I try to work my way out to some firm ground of personal belief, as others do. I have times of terror and doubt and indecision, I am confused in all the uproar of shouting maddened voices.... I should like to save myself, but I have no assurance that I can....67
"I suspect that it was the question of my own fate that took me to Spain as much as it was any actual convulsion going on in that country," Josephine Herbst shrewdly comments.68
There is, of course, a significant difference between becoming a gangster and joining the battle against fascism, no matter what a crusader against the Red Decade might think. But the act of commitment itself had a psychological and sociological significance often unrelated to the specific nature of the profession or movement. For some the act itself could be defined in ways that made it sufficient in itself. For Ernest Hemingway, the Spanish War presented an easy and positive answer for the individual (Miss Herbst tells us that Hemingway was "at home" in Spain and that she was not). For him the war offered,
a part in something which you could believe in wholly and completely and in which you felt an absolute brotherhood with others who were engaged in it.... Your own death seemed of complete unimportance; only a thing to be avoided because it would interfere with the performance of your duty. But the best thing was that here was something you could do about this feeling and this necessity too, you could fight.69
The simplicity of such an act of commitment almost overwhelms, especially in Hemingway's rhetorical flight. This act Hemingway describes is simple, clear, direct; it is obvious and essential.
Yet not everyone could find such immediate satisfaction in his act of commitment. The act might be necessary but there still remained in fact, new dilemmas developed as a consequence of the act itself. Compare Miss Herbst's response with Hemingway's:
I was probably trying to find some answers to the confusions in my own mind. The thirties had come in like a hurricane. An entire young generation had been swept up in a violent protest against the realities of events. But the answers were numbing. The slogans were pieces of twine throttling something that was struggling. Phrases like 'the toiling masses' did not answer terrible questions. There were always people, real people, each was an individual spirit with its own peculiar past. The Spanish War was doubtless the last war in which individuals were to enter fully with their individual might. But what a welter of conflicting views this implies! The soldier is not only fighting against an enemy but also for some beyond.70
The special dilemma for the intellectual that this passage reveals is central to any serious study of the 1930's, but Hemingway's contemporary response was perhaps more characteristic of writers of the times.
How important the ability was to make some commitment, to associate with some idea of culture may best be seen if we look briefly at those who lacked it. Frederick J. Hoffman tells us
The age of the Great Depression . . . was of course the time of the marginal man malgre lui. Time and again, he moves by necessity from place to place, vainly seeking employment, dreadfully aware of his lack of status, his emotional reaction varying from extreme despair to extreme anger.71
The 1930's had its forced wanderers, its vagabonds, its tramps. Indeed, such "marginal men" became the subjects of a literature which has emerged as a special legacy from the period. Such marginality is not desired or accepted voluntarily; life on the road is not romanticized, nor is it a source of any genuine pleasure or special wisdom. It is not a journey that ends in discovery or explanation. There is little to suggest the appeal of any particular ideology (even anarchism, so popular in the literature of marginal men in previous periods, is almost strikingly absent). Seldom can the wanderer find alleviation of distress and anxiety by adherence to a group or a community of any lasting kind. Marginal men do not participate in any culture, real or imagined. They do not listen to the radio, go to the movies, or read Life magazine. They do not participate in sports or play traditional games. Here, rather, among the marginal men we find those corruptions of games of which Caillois speaks; here is the violence (sometimes personal, sometimes social, but generally in the end without meaning), the alienation, the drunkenness, the unacceptable and anti-social forms of "play." Even the strike takes on this aspect; it seems almost a perversion of sport without purpose or meaning, since it is generally lost or blunted. It can provide, for the moment, common purpose and brotherhood, the suggested beginnings of a pattern of belief or a way of lifeÄas other events or acts also can do on occasionÄbut such common action is too easily dissolved and the individual marginal man is on the road again, the road to nowhere. He has no commitments and no culture (in the sense these words are used here). The phenomenon produced a strong body of literature: Edward Dahlberg's Bottom Dogs (1930), Jack Conroy's The Disinherited (1933), and Nelson Algren's Somebody in Boots (1935), are among the very best. These works, however, have become more admired and treated with fuller critical seriousness in our time than they were in the thirties.
Only one novel that might be said to be of the same genre was greeted with considerable enthusiasm when it appeared, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1939). Yet it is a novel of the enforced wanderings of marginal men with a difference, in fact with several crucial differences. Marginal man here was not alone; the strength and power of the family as a unit went with him. Frequently on the road he shared with other travellers a strong sense of common purpose and destiny, even the incipient form of a culture. There was an end in view: sometimes a romantic agrarian utopia, sometimes at least a sense of revolutionary enthusiasm and optimism. And the Joad family most especially, therefore, had what can be defined as a sense of commitment.
Thus it was characteristic in the 1930's for the idea of commitment itself to merge with some idea of culture and to produce, at least for a time, participation in some group, community, or movement. The 1930's was the decade of participation and belonging. This is obvious on almost every level of cultural development. The 1920's saw a growth of spectator sports; the 1930's mark a new era in sports participation. The 1920's found the intellectuals in revolt against the village; the 1930's witnessed the intellectuals in flight to the village. Such generalizations are obviously extreme, but they do suggest a basic truth about the decade: the need to feel one's self a part of some larger body, some larger sense of purpose. Harold Clurman's excellent memoir of the Group Theater and the thirties, The Fervent Years (1945) makes clear that it was not only the excitement of new plays and new theater ideas, or even a new sense of social purpose that made the venture memorable. It was the sense of working together, sharing ideas and beliefs, the sense in fact of being a "group."
It is not possible to come away from wide reading in the literature of the period without some sense of the excitementÄeven the enthusiasm and optimism shared by many. They were "fervent years." A participant in the intellectual life of the decade comments that there was an "almost universal liveliness that countervailed universal suffering"72 The historian must wonder whether the "facts" warranted such enthusiasm. Depression problems were not solved during the period, although they were considerably alleviated. Yet even while political events at home suggested some grounds for hope (although surely no grounds to anticipate any "revolutionary" triumph of the workers), abroad the international order was rapidly collapsing and the menace of Fascism constantly growing. One explanation for this mood may very well be found in the additional "fact" of increased participation: in groups, in movements, in what appeared to be the major action of the time.
Political "participation" has most consistently attracted the attention of scholars and citizens who revisit the 1930's. The growth of the Communist Party and its position as a rallying point, at least for a time, of considerable numbers of outstanding American intellectual and artistic figures, helped create the image of the decade as heavily political. Such political participation has received excellent scholarly treatment recently; we are now able to understand such activity more fully than ever before. Yet, the historian analyzing the culture of the thirties must attempt to appraise this activity in terms of the total record. There were political tracts; there were petitions and manifestoes. The Communist Party did receive considerable political support, especially in 1932, from leading intellectuals. But somehow there also seems to have been a paucity of political ideas and, more significantly, an inability to maintain effective political stances except on negative issues: against Franco, against the menace of Fascism, against the dehumanization of Depression America. When it came to vital issues of political involvement as distinct from commitment to ideas and often vaguer ideals, that is, issues of power, strategy, and organization which are the lifeblood of actual political movements, the Party soon found itself divided; each issue of genuine political importance brought not only division into factions but actual withdrawal of increasing numbers of intellectuals from the Party itself.73 It was easy, as Miss Herbst suggested, to be against; it was harder by far to look beyond for something.
The genius of the Communist movement of the 1930's was its ability to use the obvious social and psychological needs of the period. It recruited effectively individuals who had no other place to go and who sought to belong and to do, those who had a commitment to ideals shared by those in the Party if not complete knowledge or understanding of its ideology. There were sentiments and values which united members; there was in those remarkably confused and complicated times little political knowledge and intelligence among intellectuals whose training and preparation usually left them ill-suited to face the political realities of a collapsing capitalist order. And the Party offered more than political participation: there were its camps, its discussion groups, its magazines, even its dances and social affairs, its lecturers, its writers' congresses. For the first time in the twentieth century the Party had attempted to organize writers and intellectuals, and to bring them together to exchange views, political and aesthetic, to feel themselves an important part of the American scene. This was an important develop- mentÄand a major contribution of the PartyÄfor writers who had grown up in the 1920's with the view that America offered no place for the artist and the intellectual. (The New Deal, of course, in this area offered considerable competition with its own projects in the arts, in the theater, and in the Federal Writers' Project.) There was, furthermore, great satisfaction for many in
the idea of uniting themselves with the mass or the group, and being not leader, but just one in the ranks of the great army that was marching toward a new dawn. If they could forget themselves, they could solve their psychological problems. So there was a great deal of almost religious feeling going on at the same time among people you would never suspect of having it, and who tried to hide their religious feeling in talk of Marxian dialectic.... The feeling was there.74
It is all too facile to describe the commitment to the Left as a religious surrogate and yet it is a fact of some importance that American Protestantism was itself suffering in the 1930's. Liberal Protestantism had tended to disintegrate into a strange breed of mind-cure and positive thinking; the Social Gospel found itself usurped by the political magic and action of the New Deal; and the mighty search for "political realism" among intellectual leaders of Protestantism was just itself in process.75 The rise of Neo-Thomism at the University of Chicago and the efforts of the Southern Agrarians in the period offer additional evidence of an effort to make religion and religious values relevant to society. It is therefore not far-fetched to see for some in the move- ment to the political left quasi-religious motives.
In a sense, Granville Hicks came to communism through youth groups of the Universalist Church, theological school, and the teaching of Bible at Smith College. But there was perhaps something even more important, as a reviewer of his memoir of the period has observed:
His native feeling for the decentralized, for the communion of the small group, for collective action coming from individuals drawn together for a common purpose, acting out their parts of a common aim, is thoroughly consistent with his life pattern as it is revealed to us in Part of the Truth.76
Thus Hicks' participation in the communist movement of the 1930's seems somehow related to his later enthusiastic efforts to make the Small Town77 an operative factor in American culture.
Mary McCarthy selected a most apt image when she called her novel about the 1930's The Group. In addition to the Communist Party itself, the various groups within it, and the leagues of authors, there were the Southern Agrarians who issued a group manifesto, I'll Take My Stand, in 1930 and joined in yet another, Who Owns America? in 1936. Allen Tate indicated his desire to participate in more genuine and meaningful group life than offered by industrial capitalism: a producers' capitalism, the peasant community, the religious community, or a sense of regional community.78 Ralph Borsodi was not only a widely read critic of modern urban living who urged a Flight from the City (1933), but he also organized Homestead Units, one of many communitarian ventures in the period. Arthur Morgan, of Antioch College and the T.V.A., founded in 1939 an organization designed "to promote the interests of the community as a basic social institution and concerned with the economic, recreational, educational, cultural and spiritual development of its members."79
In part this was a continuation of a tradition well established during the Progressive Era, and perhaps traceable to the mid-nineteenth century movements, but there is little question that the 1930's saw a general revival of communitarian concern. Stuart Chase's description of the Mexican village has already been cited Lewis Mumford looked forward to the creation of a new, human city while he looked back with considerable enthusiasm to the achievements of the medieval city.80 Black Mountain College, which opened in September of 1934, advanced a special communitarian ideal of college living. There was an unusual equality between students and faculty; they built the institution together, literally sharing even tasks of physical construction. The students developed a strong tradition of native arts and craft work as a part of their college experience.
Thorton Wilder's sentimental hit of 1938, Our Town, provided a far different picture of village life than, for example, Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, his "book of grotesques" published in 1919. Clifford Odets treated the idea of the strike almost as ritual; Waiting for Lefty (1935), his vision of labor solidarity and common action, also created a sense of audience participation in a special community with the workers in the play. The unions themselves were or tried to be more than economic institutions: union membership meant group conscious- ness and the union supplied important social functions, sometimes even cultural ones; for example, Pins and Needles (1937), the International Ladies Garment Workers' marvellous theatrical review which delighted audiences of the 1930's and once again audiences in the 1960's. The MacDowell Colony, a long-time center affording artists the opportunity to work and live away from the demands of jobs and other kinds of social pressures, seemed to some almost a communitarian dream come true in this period. And Miss McCarthy was to satirize in The Oasis (1949) the kind of communitarian venture attempted by some intellectuals in the 1930's. There was a whole new interest in "the folk society" which led to a whole reappreciation of Indian life and most especially pre-Columbian Indian Life despoiled by the coming of European civilization.81
Individual acts of commitment led to particular visions of culture, often through participation in specific groups or movements or hoped- for participation in ideal ones. This search often involved a new emphasis on tradition. Mention has already been made of the special search for an American tradition. But the movement went beyond this. Robert Penn Warren has said, "The past is always a rebuke to the present,"82 and the 1930's indeed demonstrated this special use of history, so different from the uses to which history had been put in the Progressive period or in the debunking 1920's. Not only did the Agrarians attempt to create a picture of the pre-Civil War south as an aid to the development of their twentieth-century Agrarian stand; even those of left-wing persuasion found much in the pastÄminiature class wars, slave revolts, revolutionary heroesÄas V. F. Calverton shows in his The Awakening of America (1939). Gilbert Seldes' Mainland (1936) found much to praise in our past; as a work it stands in sharp contrast to his depressing and negative report on Depression America, The Year of the Locust (1932). The professional historians' more favorable assessment of previously-despised Puritanism led to a reassessment of our whole intellectual past. And the work of Mumford, once again, sees much in early history destroyed by the coming of modern technology and urban civilization.
The idea of tradition itselfÄand most especially the supposed tradition of civilization in the West before the Industrial and the French RevolutionsÄbecomes increasingly important in the period. Not only was there an appeal to the Southern Agrarian tradition and various versions of an American tradition. The Humanists, Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More, offered a lively source of debate in the early 1930's and were widely read in intellectual circles.83 T. S. Eliot, long interested in "The Tradition and the Individual Talent," placed considerably more of his attention on The Tradition in the thirties, especially in After Strange Gods (1934) and The Idea of a Christian Society (1939). At the University of Chicago, Robert M. Hutchins not only reorganized the institution but also produced a significant defense of his version of The Higher Learning in America (1936). His work was a direct confrontation to the previous work of Thorstein Veblen and a specific challenge to the Pragmatists. He would use the tradition to help shape and reenforce the culture.
In general education we are interested in drawing out elements of our common human nature; we are interested in the attributes of the race, not the accidents of individuals.... We propose permanent studies because these studies... connect man with man, because they connect us with the best that man has thought, because they are basic to any further study and to any understanding of the world.... Real unity can be achieved only by a hier- archy of truths which show us which are fundamental and which subsidiary, which significant and which not.84
The Pragmatists, already under attack in the 1920's, found themselves fighting for their intellectual lives under the heavy assault of the tradi- tionalists and the antinaturalists.85
Even the writing of the period, diverse and different as it was in form and content, shared a common commitment, no matter what the individual participation, in various movements. The Marxist critics, may have tried to mold a special kind of proletarian writing but they did not succeed, even among Party members; the movement was sur- prisingly brief in spite of all the attention paid to it. However, Joseph Freeman's interesting introduction to the anthology Proletarian Litera- ture in the United States (1935) is worth examination:
Art, then, is not the same as action; it is not identical with science; it is distinct from party program. It has its own special function, the grasp and transmission of experience. The catch lies in the word 'experience.'86
That is indeed where the catch did lie. Even John Dewey had defined art as experience and the word "experience" had been a crucial one for the Progressive generation. Freeman himself argued for the virtues of the avant-garde in America from the poetic renaissance of 1912 to the economic crisis of 1929. In this period American writers had repudiated "eternal values" of traditional writers and had emphasized immediate American experience.
The movement has its prophet in Walt Whitman, who broke with the 'eternal values' of feudal literature and proclaimed the here and now. Poetry abandoned the pose of moving freely in space and time; it now focused its attention on New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Iowa, Alabama in the twentieth century.87
The next stage was to be a rendering of the experience of the class struggle itself as it emerged to consciousness with the depression of 1929 and finally and hopefully there would come a literature of The Party.
But literature in generalÄno matter what the political allegiance of individual writers might beÄdid not generally respond to the demands of political leadership. There was a new sense of a widening range of experience dramatically brought home because of the events of the era and their wide-spread transmission by the media. Jack Conroy was associated with Party activities, but The Disinherited is not an ideological novel. As Conroy himself remarked, "I, for one, considered myself a witness to the times rather than a novelist. Mine was an effort to obey Whitman's injunction to 'vivify the contemporary fact.'"88 Allen Tate was a Southern Agrarian, but as he has suggested, "The success or failure of a political idea is none of my business; my business is to render in words the experience of people, whatever movement of ideas they may be caught up in."89 And Alfred Kazin, recalling his own Starting Out in the Thirties, declared,
What young writers of the Thirties wanted was to prove the literary value of our experience, to recognize the possibilities of art in our own lives, to feel we had moved the streets, the stockyards, the hiring halls into literature Äto show our radical strength could carry on the experimental impulse of modern literature.90
But in many cases this aim, this search for experience and ways to record it (some interesting new forms were produced, especially the "documentary" techniques characteristic of the period, not only in Dos Passos' U.S.A., but in various Federal Theater productions and works like Agee and Walker's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men) was related to the discovery of significant myths, symbols, and images from the culture itself that might also serve as a basis of reenforcement or indeed the re-creation or remaking of culture itself. The efforts of William Faulkner in the South and of Hart Crane to build his The Bridge (1930), self-consciousness striving to use our history and even our technology mythically and symbolically as Faulkner in a sense was 87Freeman, Proletarian Literature, p 19. attempting to, stand out. The most persistent symbol to emerge from the bulk of the literature of the period, however, was "the people." It was the theme of Burke's lecture on "Revolutionary Symbolism in America." In 1936 Carl Sandburg insisted, at extraordinary length and with much sentimentalism The People, Yes. Others pointed to the "workers" (Burke's preference for "people" rather than "workers" created something of a literary battle at the First American Writers' Congress 9l), to brotherhood or even to Man (always capitalized).
This self-conscious interest in myth, symbol, and image (to become in succeeding decades a special branch of criticism and philosophy, if not a cult among writers and scholars) was in the 1930's, a way in which literature could once again relate experience to culture, not necessarily to political action. Herbert Agar, in his introduction to Who Owns America (1936), declared that the social and economic system in America was on the rocks. There was a need to "build a better world" and to provide some picture "in human terms" of what this would be like. Reformation was necessary, but social and economic theories were not enough: "if a reformation is even to begin, it must be based on an ideal that can stir the human heart."92
In an age demanding an imageÄor a myth or symbolÄdid the social and political movements provide one effective enough? Josephine Herbst has asked whether a phrase like "toiling masses" is enough and Edward Dahlberg, a former "proletarian novelist" himself at one time associated with left-wing politics, was to write devastatingly in 1941 of the failure of the Left to provide meaningful symbols and myths. The mystery of the Mythic Strike, for example, was not enough. "The strike fails as tragic purification, as psychic ablution; the strke is barter, a pragmatic expedient, not a way of seeing." Thus he demanded of ideology more than it can provide, indicating in his extraordinary and special rhetoric a dissatisfaction with communism and fascism that may have led others out of the kinds of political involvement they sought earlier in the 1930's. "The drama of Bread can never be a substitute for the Wine and the Wafer, because man must not only have his loaf of bread, but he must also have an image to eat. Communism and fascism fail as awe and wonder. They are weak as image-making sources."93 Dahlberg demands what others in this decade so interested in myth, symbol, and image tried to find in a variety of ways. Perhaps in the long run, too, the New Deal succeeded even in its limited way because it, rather than the artist or the intellectual, the Communist Party or other political and social movements like Technocracy, commanded the set of images, symbols, and myths with most meaning for the bulk of the American people.
At least two recent critics of the 1930's have argued that one of the great failures of the period, especially on the Left, was the effort to associate itself with the "folk" rather than the "intellectual" tradition in America, that is, with "mass culture."94
The most important effect of the intellectual life of the 30's and the culture that grew out of it has been to distort and eventually to destroy the emo- tional and moral content of experience, putting in its place a system of conventionalized 'responses.' In fact, the chief function of mass culture is to relieve one of the necessity of experiencing one's life directly.95
William Phillips has suggested that the writers of the Concord school mark the first appearance of an American intelligentsia. In their revolt against commercialism and the Puritan heritage, he suggests, "they set out consciously to form, as Emerson put it, 'a learned class,' and to assimilate the culture of Europe into a native tradition."96 In the 1930's it might be argued, the self-conscious American intelligentsia set out to become 'an unlearned class,' to assimilate the culture of the "people" into the inherited European tradition, perhaps especially those ideas and forms brought back from long stays abroad in the 1920's.
Whether the criticisms voiced above constitute a valid perspective on the period or not, the fact remains that there is in much of the literature and thought of the period a kind of sentimentalism, a quality of intellectual softness all too often apparent: Saroyan's "gentle people," the extraordinary messages of hope with which Odets so frequently ended his plays, and for which the content of the plays themselves provided no warrant, Carl Sandburg's positive nod to "the people," MacLeish's hymn to Man. The idea of commitment frequently led when combined with the idea of culture, not to revolution but to acquiescence.
Significantly, there emerged in the decade of the thirties two other voices from two other rooms, but they achieved full cultural voice and power primarily in the post-depression period. One may be called the commitment to irresponsibility as a cultural stance; extreme antinomianism, glorying in the experiences of the self and saying to hell with everything else. At first in a kind of underground of the literary world, Henry Miller emerged in 1934 with Tropic of Cancer. George Orwell, home from the Spanish War, was to hail Miller in 1940 as "the only imaginative prose-writer of the slightest value who has appeared among the English-speaking races for some years past."97 Miller was neither a defeatist nor a yea-sayer. "Where Miller's work is symptomatically im- portant," Orwell explains,
is in its avoidance of any of these attitudes. He is neither pushing the world- process forward nor trying to drag it back, but on the other hand he is by no means ignoring it. I should say he believes in the impending ruin of Western Civilization much more firmly than the majority of 'revolutionary' writers, only he does not feel called upon to do anything about it. He is fiddling while Rome is burning, and, unlike most of the people who do this, fiddling with his face toward the flames .... he feels no impulse to alter or control the process that he is undergoing. He has performed the essential Jonah act of allowing himself to be swallowed, remaining passive, accepting.98
Miller's is an act of commitment in which the act itself is the most important thing. There is no need for "participation," no sense of "belonging" as a part of a group or a culture, real or imagined. If he is part of a tradition, it is personal tradition picked up among fragments left behind in history. In Miller there is little sense of history; there is a religious sense, but again antinomian and highly personal. His work attempts a direct expression of his own experience, unstructured by philosophy, ideology, society, by traditional myths or symbols. There is no glorying in the "folk" or special interest in the culture of the "people." American history means no more to him than European, and the America that interests him is only the America of his own experience. Miller's special stance belongs to the cultural history of the thirties: it represents an important modification of the idea of commitment, and one that was to become increasingly important in later decades. For Orwell, Miller's writing is symptomatic: "it is a demonstration of the impossibility of any major literature until the world has shaken itself into its new shape."99
The other room might be called "Kierkegaardian" in its d‚cor (and it is important to note that this Danish philosopher was translated for the first time into English in the 1930's; although, it is not proper to say that the movement under discussion depended upon his thinking). In 1932 Reinhold Niebuhr "loosed his bombshell on individualistic and utopian social thinking, Moral Man and Immoral Society.''l00 From this time on Niebuhr and other like-minded theologians (generally called Neo-Orthodox) developed a position which was to eventually rule advanced Protestant thinking and ultimately to supply many intellectuals in America with an important world view.
Any generalized picture of the basic structure of the Neo-Orthodox position necessarily risks becoming a parody. But it is fair to suggest that it demanded of man a most difficult commitment. He must live in the world but not be of the world; man is both creature and creator; he is involved in history and yet transcends it. Restoring the doctrine of original sin to a central position once again, Niebuhr asked man to continue to participate in the job of political reform knowing full well that his limitations would make it impossible for him to succeed fully. He dramatized the distinction and the tension that must exist between the Biblical view of history and the "modern" or "progressive" view. Life was a paradox that must be taken with due seriousness. Sydney Ahlstrom ofFers this summary of the major features of the movement that emerged as the Protestant Neo-Orthodoxy sought some alternative to the types of cultural surrender implicit in both Liberal Protestantism and Social Gospel Protestantism:
its critique of group, class and personal complacency; its demand for personal appropriation of Christian truth; its insistence that man's moral obligation under the Gospel cannot be stated in terms of legalistic precepts; its warn- ing against the dangers of rationalizing the great Biblical paradoxes; its emphasis upon a radically personalistic understanding of the self, and of God; above all, the reality, the objectivity, and the sovereignty of God and His judgments.l01
The fundamental role of Christ was, in effect, to stand in opposition to culture. Man was somehow caught in between. Christ was to offer a constant criticism of life in the world, of culture; yet man must continue to operate within the culture with a more realistic sense of the situation. There was no essential morality in any group, party, or class. Ultimately, man was alone in his struggle within culture and had to rely on his commitment, his belief in Christ to sustain him.
Thus by the end of the decade two new general positions emerged from the confusions of the period and from the idea of culture and the idea of commitment itself, two positions implying significant criticism of the other views of culture and commitment that had characterized the period. With the growing acceptance of these positions by American intellectuals during the Second World War and after, the thirties came to an end.
Yet, in our effort to achieve an honest understanding of what the decade did achieve, a post-script is called for. In 1941 James Agee and Walker Evans finally published their extraordinary book (begun in 1936) Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. It may be the decade's great classic, for the book represents much of what was characteristic of the thirties' finest contributions. It is, of course, a "documentary"; it deals in intimate detail, not with "the people," but with specific members of three families of sharecroppers in the American South. Brilliantly combining photographs and texts, it responds especially to the demands of an era of sight and sound. Significantly, Agee tells us the text was written "with reading aloud in mind . . . it is suggested that the reader attend with his ear to what he takes o' the page: for variations of tone, pace, shape, and dynamics are here particularly unavailable to the eye alone, and with their loss, a good deal of meaning escapes."l02 The text was intended to be read continuously "as music is listened to or a film watched." He wishes he did not have to use words at all, but could put together pieces of cloth, lumps of earth, bits of wood and iron, phials of odors, plates of food and of excrement.
"Above all else; in God's name don't think of it as Art." For Agee struggles to achieve a direct confrontation, by his audience, with the experience of these people themselves, their style of life, their very being. The true meaning, he argues, of a character in his work is that he exists "as you do and as I do and as no character of the imagination can possibly exist. His great weight, mystery, and dignity are in this fact.''l03 Thus the concentration on the direct experience and the recreation of the total cultural environment in rich detail marks the work. It is a work of passion, a work that involves a fundamental act of commitment by its authors, a belief in the meaningfulness of the lives of such people, a belief in human dignity. There is a moral intensity, albeit without a particular "social" or "political" lesson to teach or doctrine to preach. There may be, as Lionel Trilling suggests, a refusal to see any evil in the universe and thus a moral flaw in the work, but the passion and the innocence are also ways of seeing, perhaps characteristic ways of seeing in the best of the work of the 1930's, ways of seeing that we may forget are part of a genuine and valuable legacy of the decade.104 Later critics were to hail the end of innocenceÄthat lack of a sense of personalism, the sentimentalism. the failure to see complexity and inherent evil in the world, the optimistic faith in simple solutions to all human problems. These same critics greeted a newer "realism" with considerable enthusiasm. The innocence of the period can be documented; that it was all weakness, perhaps not so easily. The decade was also to be criticized for its commitment to "ideologies," but alas we cannot comment on this charge because there is so little evidence that such a commitment existed. Rather, what appears to have been the stunning weakness of the decade was that innocence replaced all ideological sense, when both may in fact be essential.
The thirties this essay has attempted to portray and understand may not correspond to the decade as it exists in myth and memory. It had more than its share of grave weaknesses. But the fact remains that the era made a significant contribution to our development in the accultura- tion of the idea of culture and of the idea of commitment. Later decades would determine whether better use could be made of these discoveries.
1Josephine Herbst, "A Year of Disgrace," in S. Bellow and K. Botsford, eds., The Noble Savage 3 (Cleveland, Ohio: The World Publishing Company, 1961), p. 160. Copyright 1961 by The World Publishing Company. Miss Herbst's memoirs (of which two sections have thus far appeared) promise to be one of the classic accounts of the intellectual life of the 1920's and the 1930's.
2Herbst in The Noble Savage 3, S. Bellow and K. Botsford, eds., p. 160.
3Herbst in The Noble Savage 3, S. Bellow and K. Botsford, eds., p. 145.
4Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. by w. R. Trask (Princeton university Press, 1953), p. 20.
5Alistair Cook, in Generation on Trial (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1952), his study of the Hiss trial, makes this point vividly, especially in his first chapter, "The Remembrance of Things Past," one of the very best essays on the 1930's.
6Daniel Aaron presents an excellent account of this problem based on his own research difficulties in writing his study of Communism and American writers in the 1930's in an important article, "The Treachery of Recollection: The Inner and the Outer History," in Robert H. Bremmer, ed., Essays on History and Literature (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1966), pp. 3-27.
7See especially the collection of articles by Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology (New York: The Free Press, 1960). Most relevant are "The Mood of Three Genera- tions," pp. 286-99, and "The End of Ideology in the West," pp. 369-76. See also Leslie Fiedler, The End to Innocence (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955).
8See Daniel Aaron,
Writers on the Left (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1961); also his previously cited article (fn. 6), as well as "The ThirtiesÄNow and Then," American Scholar, 35 (Summer, 1961), 490-94. Frank A. Warren III, Liberals and Communism: The "Red Decade" Revisited (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana Uni- versity Press, 1966), throws further light on this question.
9Josephine Herbst, "Moralist's Progress," Kenyon Review, 28 (Autumn, 1965), 773. George K. Anderson and Eda Lou Walton, eds., have an interesting discussion of the importance of this work in their anthology This Generation (Revised Edition) (Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1949), pp. 545-46. Obviously, I do not mean to suggest that there were no "ideologies" or ideologists in the 1930's. I mean rather that there were several; that ideological thinking was not as striking an aspect of intellectual life as has been supposed or indeed that can be discovered in earlier periods (like the Progressive Era, for example).
10See footnotes 42, 43, and 44 below.
11George Orwell, "Inside the Whale,'' reprinted in A Collection of Essays (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1954), p. 236 in the Anchor paperback edition; quoted by permission of Harcourt, Brace 8: World, Inc. and Miss sonia Brownell and Secker & Warburg, Ltd. This brilliant essay written in 1940 provides a stimulating view of the whole period.
12See, for example, "Making the 1930's Pay OffÄAt Last," Business Week (August 20, 1966), pp. 128-32.
13The original sales of the Fuchs' novels are as follows: Summer in Williamsburg (1934), 400 copies; Homage to Blenholt (1936), 400 copies: Low Company (1937), 1200 copies. so Fuchs reports in a new preface to the paperback edition (New York: Berkley Publishing corporation, 1965), p. 7. These novels were also reprinted in hard covers in 1961. W est's Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) sold only 800 copies in its original edition, according to Robert M. Coates in his "Afterword" to the Avon paperback reprint of the McCoy novel (New York: Avon Books, 1966), p. 134. McCoy's novel of 1935 may be almost regarded as a best-seller in this company: it sold 3000 copies. It was reprinted in paperback in 1948, 1955, and for the third time in 1966 (which text I am using).
14Harvey Swados, ed., The American Writer and the Great Depression (The American Heritage Series) (Indianapolis, Ind.: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., 1966), has a fine introductory essay and a good bibliography; Jack Salzman, ed., Years of Protest (New York: Pegasus, 1967), covers many issues and has especially useful headnotes. Louis Filler, ed., The Anxious Years (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1963), is wide-ranging and the introduction provides useful information but also some strange opinions.
15See Henry Dan Piper's valuable collection of Malcolm Cowley's important pieces of reportage, controversy, and criticism from the 1930's, Think Back on Us (Carbon- dale, 111.: S. Illinois Univ. Press, 1967). On this point see especially pp. 51-55. Caroline Bird, The Invisible Scar (New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1966), is in many ways a good social history. On this question see pp. 89-90. In addition to Paul Conkin's solid work Toward a New World (Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell University Press, 1959), see the valuable essay (the third chapter) in Warren French's The Social Novel at the End of an Era (Carbondale, III.: S. Illinois Univ. Press, 1966), for important data on this point.
16A. L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn, Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions, originally published as Volume XLVIIÄNo. I of the Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University in 1952 and reprinted in paperback (New York: Random House, Inc., 1963), is the crucial work in the whole area of definition and use and a starting point for any study. It deals largely with professional social scientists, however, and does not deal with what I would call the acculturation of the concept. Charles and Mary Beard wrote an im- portant book as part of their series of volumes on The Rise of American Civilization, a final volume called The American Spirit (New York: The Macmillan company, 1942). This volume, too often overlooked and much more significant than scholars have hitherto acknowledged, was the study of the idea of civilization in the United states which the authors felt was the key American idea and a molding force in the development of American civilization itself. In my own work I have argued that the idea of culture always existed somehow opposed to and in tension with the idea of civilization, hut the Beards' book is significant. Kroeber and Kluckhohn also discuss the distinction between culture and civilization. In a different context, using very different material, the anthropologist Clifford Geertz has provided a very stimulating essay, "The Impact of the concept of Culture on the concept of Man,,' in John R. Platt, ed., New Views of the Nature of Man (Chicago: The university of Chicago Press, 1965), pp. 93-118.
17Robert S. Lynd, Knowledge for What? The Place of the Social Sciences in American Culture (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, copyright 1939, 1967 by Princeton university Press), pp. 16, 19.
18F. R. Cowell, Culture in Private and Public Life (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Inc., 1959), p. 5.
19Mitford M. Matthews in his Dictionary of Americanisms (Chicago: university of Chicago Press, 1951) does list a use of "the American ways' as early as 1885, but his other references reinforce the opinion that it came especially into vogue in the 1930's and 1940's. There were at least four books in the period that used the phrase in a title (including a collection of essays edited by Newton D. Baker in 1936 and Earle Looker's 1933 study of E.D.R. in action). Kaufman and Hart used it as a title of a play in 1939. The play traces the history of an immigrant family in America and ends with patriotic flourishes. There is, I suspect, little significance in the fact that it was the first Broadway play I ever saw. Certainly there were more books and articles using the phrase in the 1930's than ever before. Merle Curti has some ex- tremely interesting things to say about the idea of an American Dream in his article "The American Exploration of Dreams and Dreamers," Journal of the History of Ideas, 27 (July-September, 1966), 391. He believes that James Truslow Adams invented or at least publicized the phrase in 1931. George O'Neils's play of that name was produced in 1933 and showed the progressive deterioration of the ideals and character of a New England family through American history. The word culture itself begins to appear commonly. Many titles are cited in this essay. Others include Jerome Davis, Capitalism and Its Culture (New York: Holt, Rinehart 8c Winston, Inc., 1935).
20On this issue see Matthews, Dictionary of Americanisms, as well as Raven I. McDavid, Jr.'s revised one-volume abridgement of Mencken's The American Language (New York: Alfred A Knopf, Inc., 1963), p. 183. An important book of the 1930's published as the result of a symposium organized by the Department of Agriculture, with a preface by Charles Beard which stressed the key role of agriculture as a base for any democracy in America, was M. L. Wilson, Democracy Has Roots (New York: Carrick-Evans, Inc., 1939). We need further studies of the rhetoric of American history.
21From "America Was Promises," Collected Poems 1917-1952. Copyright 1952 by Archibald MacLeish. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Company Reprinted in Filler, The Anxious Years, pp. 225-26.
22Leo Gurko, The Angry Decade (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1947), has some useful information, especially on the context of American reading in the period although its analysis is not very penetrating. James D. Hart, The Popular Book (New York: Oxford University Press, 1950), is invaluable.
23See the perceptive essay by Reuel Denney, "The Discovery of Popular Culture," in Robert E. Spiller and Eric Larrabee, eds., A merican Pers pectives (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961), p. 170.
24 Stuart Chase, Mexico, A Study of Two Americas (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1931). This book, written in collaboration with Marian Tyler, begs for more extensive treatment, especially since Hart, The Popular Book, indicates it was a best-seller in the period. I have quoted almost at random: pp. 170, 130, 154, 171, 128.
25William Fielding Ogburn,
Social Change with Respect to Culture and Original Nature (New York: Viking Press, 1922).
26Lynd, Knowledge for What?, pp, 3-4. He also speaks, in the passage immediately preceding' about what has spoiled "the American Dream."
27Carl Becker, Progress and Power (Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1936), p. 91.
23See footnote 16. I have developed this argument at length in my paper "The Nature of American Conservatism," which I delivered at the First Socialist Scholars' Conference, September, 1965.
29I have not dwelled in this essay on what happened to Progressive ideas in the period. Obviously, there was considerable continuity at least in some aspects of the culture of the period Otis L. Graham, Jr., An Encore for Reform (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), is enlightening on differences as well as similarities, but Rexford G. Tugwell has written a most brilliant essay "The New DealÄThe Progressive Tradition," Western Political Quarterly, 3 (September, 1950), 390, which can be missed by the cultural and intellectual historian only at great peril.
30Herbst, "A Year of Disgrace," The Noble Savage 3, p. 159.
31Nelson Algren, Somebody in Boots (paperback reprint) (New York: Berkley Pub- lishing Corporation, 1965), pp. 82-83. Originally published in 1935.
32In addition to works already cited, Alfred Kazin, On Native Grounds (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1942), has an extraordinary analysis, considering the date of its appearance, in his section on the 1930's, especially the chapter "America, America." We need an extended study of the newly awakened popular interest in anthropological and archeological studies in the 1920's and 1930's which produced not only an outpouring of scholarly discoveries and works but also a con- siderable popular literature as well.
33Brooks edited a collection of Rourket's essays and provided a most significant preface, The Roots of American Culture and Other Essays (New York: Harcourt, Brace 8` World, Inc., 1942). Vico and Herder play an important role in the new concern for culture. Brooks quotes Herder to the effect that "folk-forms were essential to any communal group, they were the texture of the communal experience and expresSion." All of the key words were as we shall see, especially important in the 1 930 's.
34See the essay of Harvey Swados with which he introduces his anthology, The American Writer and the Great Depression.
351n 1928 Niebuhr published his Does Civilization Need Religion?, the first of many important works really on this theme; in 1954 Mumford began his series of four volumes pleading for a harnessing of science and technology in the interest of a better life for man with his Technics and Civililization. The series as a whole is called The Renewal of Life. The decade saw the publication of the Dictionary of American Biography as well as the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Recent Social Trends and Recent Economic Trends. Many of these works had been begun, of course, during the 1920's. But the 1920's and the 1930 s produced an enormous body of literature on the nature of history, culture, and the social sciences as well as the gathering of significant data about our history and society. see Merle curt), ed., American Scholarship in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard university Press, 1953).
36For a brief introduction to this whole subject treated historically see Stow Per- sons, American Minds (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Inc., 1958), chapter 21.
37Hadley Cantril has provided us with a social-psychological study of this affair in The Invasion from Mars (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1940).
38Beaumont Newhall provides a good starting point for further analysis in The History of Photograph (revised and enlarged edition) (New York: Doubleday &: Company, Inc., 1964), chapter 10.
39Quoted in T. V. Smith, "The New Deal as a Cultural Phenomenon," in F. S. C. Northrop, ed., Ideological Differences and World Order (New Haven, cone.: Yale university Press, 1949), p. 212.
40The best analysis of the "soaps" is still the delightful series James Thurber did for the New Yorker, reprinted in his The Beast in Me (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1948) as Soapland'.
41Kenneth Burke, "Revolutionary Symbolism in America,,' in Frederick J. Hoff- man, ed., Perspectives on Modern Literature (New York. Harper & Row, Publishers, 1902), p. 181.
42 Burke, "The Rhetoric of Hitler's 'Battle,'" reprinted in his The Philosophy of Literary Form (Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press, 1941). This is an important collection of pieces for purposes of this essay.
43Arnold, The Folklore of Capitalism (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1937). I have a reprint edition which indicates that at least ten printings of the work occurred between 1937 and 1941. There is an extended analysis of the work in Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform (New York: Random House, Inc., 1959), pp. 317-22. Previously, Arnold had published The Symbols of Government (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1935).
44Lasswell's career began with a study of Propaganda Technique in the World War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1927). In 1930 he published Psychopathology and Politics and in 1936 Politics: Who Gets What, When, How.
45" The New Deal as a Cultural Phenomenon,'' in Northrop, ed., Ideological Differences and World Order, p. 209.
46 It was in 1938 that the distinguished Dutch cultural historian J. Huizinga published his landmark study of play and civilization, Homo Ludens.
47In addition to the Bird volume already cited (fn. 15), see the excellent social history of Frederick L. Allen, Since Yesterday; The Nineteen-Thirties in America (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1940), chapter 6. There are some illuminating suggestions in Robert M. Coates, "Afterword" to the Horace McCoy novel previously cited (fn. 13). See also Foster Rhea Dulles, A History of Recreation (New York: Meredith Press, 1905), a revised edition of his America Learns to Play.
48Roger Caillois, Man, Play and Games (New York: The Free Press, 1961), especially chapters 3 and 4.
49Caillois, Man, Play and Games, p. 55.
50 Robert Sherwood's Idiot's Delight (1936) is conveniently reprinted in Harold Clurman, ed., Famous American Plays of the 1930's (New York: DeU Publishing co., Inc., 1959). This passage appears on p. 253. Quoted by permission of Charles Scribner's sons.
5lWilliam Saroyant's The Time of Your Life (1939) is also reprinted in Clurman, ed., Famous American Plays of the 1930's. The passages quoted appear on pp. 388 and 463. Quoted by permission of William Saroyan.
52Robert S. and Helen Lynd, A Fiddletown in Transition (New York: Harcourt, Brace 8c World, Inc., 1937), pp. 233-34 and Robert Lynd, Knowledge for What?, pp. 23~37.
53Neil Leonard, Jazz and the White Americans (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), chapter 6.
54A good deal that follows is based on Meyer's superb analysis in The Positive Thinkers (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1965), certainly one of the most important recent studies in the field of American civilization. see especially chapters 14, 18, and 19.
55Hart, The Popular Book, pp. 255-56, is excellent here, Carnegie's book sold 750,000 copies by the end of its first year in print. By 1948 it had sold over 3,250,000 copies in all editions. Also popular were Pitkin's Life Begins at Forty and Dorothea Brande's Wake Up and Live, among the hundreds of best-selling do-it-yourself books devoted to self-help.
56All the social historians comment on this point. Caroline Bird, The Invisible Scar, p. 277, has some especially interesting material.
57Mayo deserves more serious treatment than I have given him. He influenced Harold Lasswell's studies, for example, and his books The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1933) and The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilization (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1945) are important works. Meyer discusses Mayo briefly in his book, cited above (fn. 54), and Loren Baritz has an important analysis in The Servants of Power (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1960).
58Clara Thompson has a brief analysis of the Neo-Freudians in the last chapter of her Psychoanalysis: Evolution and Development (New York: Hermitage House, 1950), and there is a stimulating critique of the movement in the Epilogue to Herbert Marcuse's Eros and Civilization (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955).
59The word was perhaps not widely used in the decade; certainly, not as widely used as it was to become in the 1940's and 1950's. It did not quite gain the currency that the word "culture" did but the idea was a concept important to the period. On the whole question of the word, its origins and meanings in contemporary dis- cussion, see Edmund Wilson, "Words of III-Omen," in his The Bit Between My Teeth (New York: Farrar, Straus ~ Giroux, Inc., 1965), pp. 415-16.
60Hart, The Popular Book, p. 259, points out that nearly a quarter of all new novels published in the decade were detective-mystery stories. Only 12 books of this type appeared in 1914; only 97 in 1925. By 1939 the production of new titles (to say nothing of reprints) had reached 217.
61 Yale Review, 39 (September, 1949), 71 - 95.
62 I am using the Dell paperback reprint (New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1966), pp. 188-89. Copyright by, and quoted by permission of, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
63John Dewey, Freedom and Culture (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1939), p. 21.
64Karen Homey, The Neurotic Personality of Our Time (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1937), p. 47. It is interesting, in passing, to note how much Prof. Lynd makes use of Horney's analysis in his own book Knowledge for What, previously cited.
65In "Symposium: The First American writers congress," American Scholar; 35 (Summer, 1966), 505.
66American Scholar, 35, 500.
67In her reply to the Partisan Review questionnaire "The situation in American writing," first published in 1939 and reprinted in William Phillips and Philip Rahv, eds., The Partisan Reader (New York: Dial Press, Inc., 1946), p. 617.
68Herbst, "The Starched Blue Sky of Spain," The Noble Savage (Cleveland, Ohio: The World Publishing company, 1960), p. 78.
69From For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), quoted in Norman Holmes Pearson, "The Nazi-Soviet Pact and the End of a Dream," in Daniel Aaron, ed., America in Crisis (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1952), p. 337. For Whom the Bell Tolls was originally published by Charles Scribners Sons.
70Herbst, "The Starched Blue Sky of Spain," The Noble Savage , pp. 79-80.
7lIntroduction, Marginal Manners (Evanston, III.: Harper 8` Row, Publishers, 1962), p. 7. This excellent anthology of Prof. Hoffmant's has an important section on the 1930's: "The Expense of Poverty: Bottom Dogs," pp. 92-126, with material reprinted from Dos Passos, Steinbeck, Dahlberg, and Maltz and very intelligent headnotes by Hoffman.
72Herbst, "Moralist's Progress," Kenyon Review, 28, 776.
73The article by Norman Holmes Pearson, "The Nazi-Soviet Pact,'' is excellent on this whole question. It is an important piece on the intellectuals and the Left in the 1930's. The works of Daniel Aaron previously cited (fns. 6 and 8) are basic.
74Malcolm Cowley, "Symposium," American Scholar, 35, 500.
750n this whole subject Donald B. Meyer has produced a key book in our under- standing of the 1930's with his The Protestant Search for Political Realism (Los Angeles, Calif.: University of California Press, 1960).
76Herbst, "Moralist's Progress,''Kenyon Review, 28, 777.
77Granville Hicks, Small Town (New York: The Macmillan company, 1946). This is the autobiographical account Hicks has given us of his involvement in his New York community after his break with the communists.
78Allen Tate, in his answer to the 1939 Partisan Review questionnaire, reprinted in The Partisan Reader, p. 622.
79Morgan is quoted here from a pamphlet published by the organization, "About Community Service Incorporated," n.d.
80The Culture of Cities (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1938), the second volume in the already cited The Renewal of Life series (fn. 35). Mumford had begun his career in the 1920's with a study of various Utopias men had devised through the ages.
8lSee Edward Dahlberg's interesting piece on the communitarian tradition re- printed in Alms for Oblivion (Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, 1964), "Our Vanishing Cooperative Colonies," pp. 91-103. Dahlberg as well as Hart Crane and Archibald MacLeish became interested in pre-Columbian Indian life and its extinction by the conquest. William Carlos Williams may have led the way in his In The American Grain as early as 1925. At the end of the Dahlberg essay cited he asks, "Is the solitary American superior to the communal Indian?"
82Quoted in Louis Rubin, Jr., "Introduction" to the Harper Torchbook reprint of I'll Take My Stand (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1958), p. xiii.
83See Malcolm Cowley's critique, "Angry Professors," written in 1930 and re- printed in Think Back on Us, pp. 3-13.
84Robert M. Hutchins, The Higher Learning in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1936), pp. 73, 77, and 95.
85Gail Kennedy, ed., Pragmatism and American Culture (Boston: D. C. Heath & Company, 1952) is an excellent anthology with a good bibliography to help the reader trace this development. One of Dewey's own best answers appeared in 1943 in the Partisan Review: "Anti-Naturalism in Extremis." It is reprinted in The Partisan Reader pp. 514-29.
86Proletarian Literature in the United States ed. by Granville Hicks et al. with a critical introduction by Joseph Freeman (New York: International Publishers Co., Inc., 1935), p. 10.
87Freeman, Proletarian Literature, p 19.
88Jack Conroy, in his contribution to "The 1930's, a Symposium," The Carleton Miscellany, 6 (Winter, 1965), 39.
89In his answer to the 1939 Partisan Review questionnaire, reprinted in The Partisan Reader, p. 622.
90From Starting Out in the Thirties? by Alfred Kazin, by permission of Atlantic- Little, Brown and co. Page 15. Copyright 1962, 1965 by Alfred Kazin.
9lThe story is told by Burke in his comments in the Symposium on the First American Writers' Congress, American Scholar, 35, 506 8.
92Herbert Agar, Who Owns America (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin Company, 1936), p. vii.
93Edward Dahlberg, "The Proletarian Eucharist," in Can These Bones Live (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1941), pp. 73-74.
94 William Phillips, "What Happened in the '30s," Commentary, 34 (September, 1962), 204-12; Robert Warshow, "The Legacy of the '30s," reprinted in his The Immediate Experience (New York: Doubleday Company Inc. 1962).
95Warshow, The Immediate Experience, p. 7.
96Phillips, "The Intellectuals' Tradition,', reprinted in The Partisan Reader, p. 489. This essay originally appeared in 1941.
97George Orwell, A Collection of Essays, p. 256 in the Anchor paperback edition. Quoted by permission of Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., and Miss Sonia Brownell and Secker & Warburg, Ltd.
980rwell, A Collection of Essays, pp. 248 and 249.
990rwell, A Collection of Essays, p. 256.
100Sydney E. Ahlstrom, "Theology in America," in James Ward Smith and A. Leland Jamison, eds., The Shaping of American Religion, Vol. I (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1961), p. 312. Copyright 1961 by Princeton university Press.
101Ahlstrom, in The Shaping of American Religion, pp. 315-16. Meyer's Protestant Search is again a crucial study here.
102James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1941), p. xv.
103Agee and Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, p. 12.
104The Trilling criticism comes in his excellent review of the work which appears in The Mid-Century, Number 16 (September, 1960). 3-11, on the occasion of the appearance of the newly revised edition. On the subject of the various attacks on American "innocence" in recent American scholarship and criticism see the interesting article by Robert A. Skotheim, "'Innocence' and 'Beyond Innocence' in Recent American Scholarship," American Quarterly, 13 (Spring, 1961), 93-99.