Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Jews Without Money is, Gold felt, an example of the proletarian novel, the novel by a member of the working class and about members of the working class. In this kind of novel, truth is supposed to be more important than art. Yet Gold was a professional writer and editor and seems to have expended much energy on making the book an artistic success. In part as a result, many communist reviewers attacked the book, pointing out that Herman is a would-be capitalist (he was partners in a suspender shop and is bitter because it failed; he feels his cousin cheated him out of the shop while Herman was on his honeymoon). Thus, the communist reviewers argued, the novel is not a proletarian work at all. Gold defended it, arguing that Herman is an example of the way capitalism destroys workers. As several critics indicate, the book fits Gold’s definition of proletarian realism, the novel by the worker about the things a worker knows best.

Jews Without Money proved very popular. It became a best seller and was reissued many times in several languages, including Esperanto. It produced enough money for Gold to buy a home in the country. In spite of his income from the book, however, Gold remained a loyal member of the Communist Party until his death. Throughout the 1930’s, he helped to edit the New Masses, a communist periodical, and into the 1940’s he wrote a daily column entitled “Change the World” for the Daily Worker, a New York-based communist newspaper. In 1935, an edition of Jews Without Money appeared with a short introduction by Gold. In it, he wrote that Adolf Hitler should read the book and discover that all Jews are not rich capitalists. Thus even after the book’s publication, Gold, perhaps naïvely, believed that his book could serve additional propagandistic purposes.