Nelson Algren American Literature Analysis
The work of Algren is best understood within the context of naturalism, a literary tradition deriving from realism’s truthful representation of life darkened by “Darwinian” notions of survival of the fittest and determinism. Though naturalism began in nineteenth century France with authors such asÉmile Zola, a strong American tradition runs from Stephen Crane through Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, Upton Sinclair, and James T. Farrell to Algren. Their novels tend to foreground the marginal elements in industrial society, where factors of heredity, chance, and social conditions determine an individual’s fate regardless of his or her will. Though characters are depicted as insignificant, their plight is often presented in a romanticized and melodramatic manner, as in some of Algren’s writing.
During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, with the apparent collapse of capitalism and the rise of Fascism, naturalism adapted easily to the left-wing dissent that blossomed at the time. Believing that “the role of the writer is always to stand against the culture he is in . . . with the accused,” Algren, like many others, sympathized with the Communist Party. Despising capitalism’s hypocritical rejection of addicts and criminals whose condition mirrored capitalism’s materialist addiction and vicious competition, Algren put his pen at the service of the underdog, whom he saw as victim and scapegoat. This resulted in an often heavy-handed...
(The entire section is 4151 words.)
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