Edward Lewis Wallant Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The brevity of Edward Lewis Wallant’s literary career did not allow for a long list of publications. He did contribute three short stories to the New Voices series: “I Held Back My Hand” appeared in New Voices 2 (1955), “The Man Who Made a Nice Appearance” in New Voices 3 (1958), and the posthumously published “When Ben Awakened” in American Scene: New Voices (1963). Wallant also wrote an essay on the art of fiction that was published in the Teacher’s Notebook in English (1963). In addition, a sizable collection housed at the Beinecke Library at Yale University includes unpublished manuscripts, the final drafts of Wallant’s first two unpublished novels, about one-half dozen short stories, various drafts of his published novels, the first act of a play, his journal and his notebooks, and miscellaneous loose notes and fragments.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Edward Lewis Wallant’s literary output was so small and his career so short that it is difficult to assess his place in postwar American fiction. Wallant’s work is best seen in its relationship to kindred works in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Although he is still little known to the public, Wallant’s four novels rank with J. D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey (1961), Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King (1959), Bernard Malamud’s A New Life (1961), and Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962) as examples of what has been described as the “new Romanticism.” Wallant’s novels reflect an outlook on life that led him to write about the unfortunate, the outcast, and the common person, whom he portrayed with compassion and dignity. His unwaveringly realistic perception of life and its often painful demands leaven his general optimism. In each of his fictions, Wallant’s central character is shocked out of a moral lethargy and into action on behalf of his fellow human beings. This shock is preceded by a submersion into the contemporary human condition, which provides Wallant the opportunity to explore the interconnections and disconnections of modern urban life.

Wallant was a committed writer whose commitment acknowledged the darker side of the lives of his characters. It is not surprising, then, that while some critics should emphasize the positive nature of Wallant’s work, his “happy endings” and his optimism, there should also be those who find in his work a note of despair and a presentiment of his own early death. It was Wallant’s achievement to fuse the qualities of an old-fashioned novelist with the perceptions of a modern urban realist. The combination resulted in novels that offer a particularly clear view of the 1960’s.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ayo, Nicholas. “The Secular Heart: The Achievement of Edward Lewis Wallant.” Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction 12 (1970): 86-94. Compares Wallant to Fyodor Dostoevski to convey the former’s grim realism and emphasis of changes of heart, looking expressly at the religious element in Wallant’s characters.

Galloway, David. Edward Lewis Wallant. Boston: Twayne, 1979. A full-length treatment of Wallant. Includes a chronology, notes, and an annotated bibliography.

Gurko, Leo. “Edward Lewis Wallant as Urban Novelist.” Twentieth Century Literature 20 (October, 1974): 252-261. Examines Wallant’s metaphoric use of the city, which is ugly, perverted, dangerous, and cruel. Gurko claims, however, that in its sprawling vitality, the city also contains “seeds of its own reconstruction.”

Lewis, Robert W. “The Hung-Up Heroes of Edward Lewis Wallant.” Renascence 24 (1972): 70-84. This substantial discussion examines all of Wallant’s novels, especially The Pawnbroker, paying particular attention to his sensitive, intellectual characters and his themes of suffering and rebirth. Also looks at his use of myth.

Schulz, M. F. “Wallant and Friedman: The Glory and Agony of Love.” Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction 10 (1968): 31-47. Compares Wallant and Bruce Jay Friedman, particularly in their use of humor and the theme of love. Finds Wallant’s characters examples of growth in sensibility and his novels affirmations of order and rebirth.

Stanford, Raney. “The Novels of Edward Wallant.” Colorado Quarterly 17 (1969): 393-405. Examines some of Wallant’s characters and themes, concentrating especially on The Tenants of Moonbloom and The Pawnbroker. Wallant’s characters tend to undergo rebellion that leads to their rebirth.