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notes and sources

  • Meridel Le Sueur's I Was Marching takes the reader into the heart of the 1934 Minneapolis strike. It is anthologized in Proletarian Literature in the United States, published in 1935.

  • My Father Has It All Figured Out stems from the pages of American Stuff, an anthology of prose and verse from the Federal Writers' Project.

  • Louis Adamic was born in Slovenia in 1898, emigrated to the United States in 1913 and, after ending a stint in the Army in 1923, settled in San Pedro where he became part of an active Californian literary group (which included Upton Sinclair) writing essays and stories for the likes of The American Mercury. By 1931, Adamic had moved to New York and published his first edition of Dynamite, the story of class violence in America. A revised edition was published in 1934 in which he goes into the phenomenon of racketeering, believing that

    the highly organized criminal terrorism which reached its heights in the days of Al Capone, back in 1922-32, has its roots deep in America's national life, in the class structure of our capitalist economic system built upon the ideals of liberty and democracy. Racketeering appears to me to be an inevitable result of the chaotic, brutalizing conditions in American industry, a phase of the dynamic, violent drive of economic evolution in the United States.
  • Death of a Century is an odd story culled from the pages of Proletarian Literature in the United States. The old capitalist's birthday party and the doling out of Lincoln pennies to kids recalls newsreel footage of John D. Rockefeller, whose handouts of small change were legendary.

  • Michael Gold's A Word As To Uncle Tom suggests that class conflict is THE CAUSE of race conflict. The difficulty in uniting all of life's underdogs for a common cause is evidenced in this essay collected in the fascinating Negro Anthology Made by Nancy Cunard 1931-33, published in 1934.

  • Richard Wright takes up a similar theme in How "Bigger" Was Born, an eloquent essay discussing the creation of the character Bigger Thomas in his book Native Son and tracing his own discovery that

    Bigger Thomas was not black all the time; he was white, too, and there were literally millions of him, everywhere. The extension of my sense of the personality of Bigger was the pivot of my life; it altered the complexion of my existence. I became conscious, at first dimly, and then later on with increasing clarity and conviction, of a vast, muddied pool of human life in America. It was as though I had put on a pair of spectacles whose power was that of an x-ray enabling me to see deeper into the lives of men. Whenever I picked up a newspaper, I'd no longer feel that I was reading of the doings of whites alone (Negroes are rarely mentioned in the press unless they've committed some crime!), but of a complex struggle for life going on in my country, a struggle in which I was involved. I sensed, too, that the Southern scheme of oppression was but an appendage of a far vaster and in many respects more ruthless and impersonal commodity-profit machine.
  • This selection from The Grapes of Wrath highlights the Joad family's arrival at the Weedpatch camp in California (after having left the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma), giving but a taste of this most important proletarian novel of the decade.