Jack London, Hemingway, and the Constitution by E. L. Doctorow

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Jack London, Hemingway, and the Constitution

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

E. L. Doctorow’s prominence as an American novelist of the very highest rank has been earned by such works as THE BOOK OF DANIEL (1971), RAGTIME (1975), BILLY BATHGATE (1989) and most recently, THE WATERWORKS (1994)—all books in which an important political dimension was illuminated by the writer’s stylistic inventions and imaginative uses of language. It is not surprising, then, that Doctorow would also be confronting some of the most significant issues of his time in essays which he wrote during the period that his reputation was developing.

At the center of his collection JACK LONDON, HEMINGWAY, AND THE CONSTITUTION is an essay “A Citizen Reads the Constitution,” which Doctorow delivered as an address at Constitution Hall in Philadelphia in 1986. Here, with no hesitation, he proclaims his belief that the American Constitution “presents itself as the sacred text of secular humanism,” and carefully builds a powerful argument for his contention that the “newly self-determined America” was a “republic of hard work, in contrast to the European domains of privilege and title.” Skillfully weaving the fruits of extensive historical research with his vivid depictions of the debates and discussions held among the framers of the document and the citizens of the republic, Doctorow presents a vivid, intellectually inspiring account of the manner in which the great questions of that time (and modern times) were addressed in a form that still offers guidance and wisdom two centuries later.

From this perspective, Doctorow turns his attention to writers he admires—Jack London, Theodore Dreiser, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell—to show, like a superb teacher who has a feeling for the writer’s craft and a sympathetic but not uncritical interest in his ideology, how each one of these passionately committed men brought their own life’s experiences and social visions to their writing. London, Dreiser, and...

(The entire section is 456 words.)