James M. Cain American Literature Analysis
The substance of Cain’s fiction coincides with the undercurrents of Greek tragedy—violently satisfied ambitions, incest, hubris, adultery, murder, betrayal, and nemesis. Greek tragedy also comprises drama and music, the two modes of artistic expression to which Cain vainly aspired. Cain’s work is best approached in this context of tragedy and auctorial frustration, even if one agrees with W. M. Frohock that the tragedy is “bogus” or “tabloid.” (Frohock judges all Cain’s work to be “trash” yet recognizes in it a readability to which many first-rate writers are drawn.) Like the major figures in his stories, Cain never got what he truly wanted; yet, in creating those figures, he wrote what he truly wanted to write and, although he did not become a dramatist and creator of high literature, he fathomed the currents of truth that may be the consciously or unconsciously sought goal of all art.
Cain’s antiheroes mainly achieve, not their true desires, which may or may not remain unknown to them, but the surfaces of their dreams; the coalescence of the dreamer with the surface of the dream is the guarantee of disaster. Cain appears to have detected the fallacy of the American Dream, which rises brightly but upon unseen and unadmitted props of crime, violence, promiscuity, and sexual waywardness. The first sentence of The Postman Always Rings Twice encapsulates the quality and direction of Cain’s fiction: “They threw me off the...
(The entire section is 2546 words.)
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