Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

This second in a series of autobiographical works by Alfred Kazin covers his life from the summer of 1934 to the end of World War II in 1945. It includes a series of portraits of people whom he met each year and traces his career as reviewer, critic, and teacher during this time.

Each of the six chapters and the epilogue are titled with the dates of years during the 1930’s and 1940’s. The opening scene of the first chapter, “1934,” captures the exuberance and vitality of the young Kazin. As he brashly enters the office of John Chamberlain, reviewer for The New York Times, the nineteen-year-old Kazin is full of intellectual ideas and hopes to convince Chamberlain to help him obtain a literary job. In a summer of the Dust Bowl and the rising Nazism of Adolf Hitler, the young socialistic Kazin is full of optimism in the power of the world. He looks “to literature for strong social argument, intellectual power, human liberation.” In the series of portraits he gives of the literary intellectuals he meets and in the discussions of social issues he recounts, Kazin provides a kind of intellectual history of the 1930’s. The strong political optimism he shares with others in this period of harsh social upheaval finally dissipates at the end of the book, with the revelations of Hitler’s concentration camps.

Each of the chapters and the epilogue focus on major influences in Kazin’s life and on major intellectuals of the New York literary scene. He praises Malcolm Cowley, editor of The New Republic, for his ability to bridge the worlds of 1920’s and 1930’s writers. The former were generally disgruntled upper-class writers, but those of the 1930’s came from the working class, the lower class, and the immigrant class. James T. Farrell, author of the Studs Lonigan trilogy, is praised for his ability to portray accurately the emptiness and futility of the working class yet include the hope that the “facts will...

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Starting Out in the Thirties Bibliography

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Capouya, Emile. “The America with Some Regret,” in Saturday Review. XLVIII (September 18, 1965), p. 101.

Kauffmann, Stanley. “Young in the Thirties,” in The New Republic. CLIII (September 18, 1965), pp. 17-20.

Kramer, Hilton. “The Age of the Intellectuals,” in The New Leader. XLVIII (September 27, 1965), pp. 23-24.

Kronenberger, Louis. “Thirties: Frayed Collars and Large Visions,” in The Atlantic Monthly. CCXVII (January, 1966), pp. 79-81.

Marx, Leo. “A Literary Radical,” in Commentary. XL (December, 1965), pp. 118, 120-123.