Norman Mailer American Literature Analysis
Mailer often said that it was his reading of James T. Farrell, especially of Farrell’s Studs Lonigan novels (1932-1935), that made him want to become a writer. Farrell wrote in a naturalistic style, vividly describing the society in which a young Irish boy grows up, matures, and dies. An urban novelist, concerned with how institutions press upon individuals, Farrell traced the story of an individual, Studs Lonigan, who dreamed of distinction but died in misery. What gripped Mailer was the idea that literature could be made from a young man’s quest for an identity while at the same time exploring the societal forces that conspire against individuality.
Mailer’s early short fiction before The Naked and the Dead featured young men caught in extremity—in war, in poverty, or in their travels when they threw in with rugged types and tested their mettle. The ethnicities and social backgrounds of his characters were important in defining their senses of the world and in determining their behavior. This is most clearly the case in “A Calculus at Heaven” (1942), set in the Pacific war theater, in which each character stands for a social type and class:
Bowen Hilliard, the captain, Ivy Leaguer and frustrated artist, who looks to war for some kind of resolution of his unfulfilled life; Dalucci, an Italian, working-class midwesterner, puzzled by his ineffectual life and wondering what it is all about; Wexler, a Jewish boy from New...
(The entire section is 3497 words.)
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