Erskine Caldwell American Literature Analysis
Caldwell is one of few American writers to achieve both enormous popular and critical success. Known to millions of his fellow Americans, many of whom actually read Tobacco Road or God’s Little Acre, Caldwell’s name mentioned on a radio program in the 1930’s or 1940’s would instantly evoke howls of snickering laughter, because his books suggested raw humor and sex. Ensign Pulver in Thomas Heggen’s hit novel and play Mister Roberts (1946) was probably one of countless World War II sailors who had memorized the most scandalous passage in God’s Little Acre, which he could recite “flawlessly.”
If Caldwell meant “dirty books” to large numbers of Americans, he was something quite different to students of literature. Many considered him chiefly a protest or proletarian writer, one of those socially committed novelists of the Depression era who exposed injustices in American life, the plight of tenant farmers, or the outrageous conditions under which cotton mill workers or southern blacks lived. Left-leaning critics championed his work as properly Marxist, but they were often disappointed by what they considered irrelevant elements in his writing. What, they wondered, did all the slapstick and sex have to do with the class struggle? They wished he would simply concentrate on exposing the evils of capitalism. Even before World War II, the Soviet Union had put its stamp of approval on his work, and after the...
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