Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Hollywood opens in 1917. The three brilliant observers who added intellectual bite to Empire are gone. John Hay and Henry James are dead, and Henry Adams, frail and isolated, makes only brief appearances before his own death. Caroline Sanford, now forty years old, observes the maneuvers of President Woodrow Wilson. She is publisher, with her half brother Blaise Sanford, of the Washington Tribune. She watches Wilson push the United States toward entry into World War I, despite the fact that he had just been reelected using the slogan “He kept us out of war,” implicitly promising to continue doing so.
The United States, in Vidal’s view, had long been evolving from a republic into an imperial power. Wilson provides the rationale for this new American global imperialism, a rationale used by his successors to justify all future American wars. American wars are noble enterprises, Wilson said, not undertaken to benefit America itself, but to make the world safe for democracy and to establish global peace and freedom.
Wilson’s wartime propaganda managers send Caroline to Hollywood to draw the film industry into the war effort. Her mentor, William Randolph Hearst, has already sensed the potential of motion pictures. Most Chinese people cannot read my newspapers, he tells Caroline, but they flock to see my serial, The Perils of Pauline. Film embodies power more basic than the written word, he believes. As a...
(The entire section is 480 words.)
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