Gore Vidal Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What does Gore Vidal mean when he says that the genius of the American ruling class is that the people do not even know they have a ruling class?

Vidal believes that the American republic was soon destroyed and replaced by an empire—first an internal empire (seized from Native Americans, Mexicans, and others) and then an overseas one (based mainly on dominating countries rather than owning them as colonies). How do Americans maintain an empire without owning many foreign colonies? Why does Vidal believe that the avowed American policy of exporting its concepts of democracy and freedom is a key to the creation and maintenance of an empire?

Aaron Burr and his descendants figure in each of Vidal’s American historical fictions. Why does he center on Burr, the “bad boy” among the Founding Fathers?

Vidal’s portraits of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt often shock readers, although many professional historians believe that his interpretations are accurate and convincing. Discuss.

Vidal has an insider position within various American elites: the wealthy, political, celebrity, and creative. How does his insider status give his descriptions of the American ruling class particular force and flavor?

Why does Vidal believe that if the Emperor Julian had lived and achieved his goals, then American history would have been quite different (and better)?

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Gore Vidal (vuh-DAHL) has written short stories as well as novels, and he is known as a master essayist, having regularly published collections of essays. Vidal also wrote and adapted plays for the small screen during the so-called golden age of television, and he wrote screenplays during the last days of the Hollywood studio system.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Gore Vidal is considered a leading American literary figure. While primarily a novelist, he has mastered almost every genre, except poetry. He has won success in films, in television, and on Broadway. Many readers consider him a better essayist than novelist, though Vidal emphatically rejects that judgment.

While many of his contemporaries have focused their writings on mundane details of everyday life, Vidal has continued to write the novel of ideas. He has maintained his focus on the largest questions: What is the nature of Western civilization? What flaws have prevented the United States from achieving its democratic promise? How does a free individual live an intellectually fulfilling and ethically proper life in a corrupt society? These concerns are reflected not only in his writing but also in his political activities, including a bid for the U.S. Senate in 1982. Vidal won a National Book Award in 1993 for his collection of essays United States: Essays, 1952-1992, and his books are routinely included in “best” lists and course syllabi.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Altman, Dennis. Gore Vidal’s America. Malden, Mass.: Polity, 2005. Comprehensive look at every aspect of Vidal’s life that includes a chapter on his career as a writer, including the works written as Edgar Box. Bibliographic references and indexes.

Baker, Susan, and Curtis S. Gibson. Gore Vidal: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997. A helpful book of criticism and interpretation of Vidal’s work. Includes bibliographical references and index.

Dick, Bernard F. The Apostate Angel: A Critical Study of Gore Vidal. New York: Random House, 1974. An entertaining and perceptive study, based on interviews with Vidal and on use of his papers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Dick focuses on Vidal’s work rather than on his biography. The book contains footnotes and a bibliography.

Harris, Stephen. The Fiction of Gore Vidal and E. L. Doctorow: Writing the Historical Self. New York: P. Lang, 2002. Discusses Vidal’s strong identification with history as reflected in his writing.

Joshi, S. T. Gore Vidal: A Comprehensive Bibliography. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2007. A comprehensive volume containing annotations of nearly every piece of writing by and about Vidal. Includes analysis of his fiction and summaries of the articles and essays he has...

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