S. J. Perelman Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

ph_0111207206-Perelman.jpg S. J. Perelman Published by Salem Press, Inc.

S. J. Perelman’s more than twenty-five books include essays, stories, plays, and an autobiography. He has also written screenplays for film and television, and he is best known for his work with the Marx Brothers on Monkey Business (1931) and Horse Feathers (1932).


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

S. J. Perelman was a highly successful and well-loved humorist whose best writing appeared in The New Yorker and then was collected in popular books for five decades, from the 1930’s to the 1970’s. He wrote the book upon which the Broadway hit One Touch of Venus (1943) was based, and he wrote one other acclaimed Broadway comedy, The Beauty Part (1961). For his contribution to Around the World in Eighty Days, he shared an Academy Award in 1956 and also received a New York Film Critics Award. In 1978, he received the special National Book Award for his lifetime contribution to American literature.

Perelman’s influence on other writers is difficult to measure because, although he was the leader of the “dementia praecox” school of humor closely associated with The New Yorker, he was not the inventor of the techniques of verbal humor he used so well, and his type of writing has been on the decline. There seem to be clear mutual influences between Perelman and several of his contemporaries: James Thurber, Dorothy Parker, Groucho Marx, and Nathanael West, his brother-in-law. French Surrealists admired his style, and contemporary black humorists often use the techniques he mastered; but one hesitates to assert direct influence on writers such as Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut. Perelman’s type of writing seems to have been taken over by television, film, and perhaps the New Journalism. Woody Allen admired Perelman and is often mentioned as one of his disciples. In his critiques of American style, Perelman may be a predecessor of writers such as Tom Wolfe, Hunter Thompson, and Terry Southern.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Epstein, Joseph. “Sid, You Made the Prose Too Thin.” Commentary 84 (September, 1987): 53-60. A biographical sketch of Perelman, suggesting that his best writing occurred when he was angry, as in Acres and Pains, a collection of stories about an idealistic city man being taken advantage of by rural hustlers; claims that elsewhere his natural penchant for gloom, suspicion, and pessimism led him merely to make wisecracks about banal subjects or unpleasantly callous pokes at barely disguised real people.

Fowler, Douglas. S. J. Perelman. Boston: Twayne, 1983. This critical study examines influences on Perelman, the development of his career, his relationships with his contemporaries, his technique, and his importance. Includes a chronology, a biographical sketch, and an annotated bibliography.

Gale, Steven. S. J. Perelman: A Critical Study. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987. Gale examines Perelman’s prose, screenplays, and plays, then studies his themes and techniques. Gale gives special attention to Perelman’s background in Jewish humor and his use of clichés and allusions. The volume is supplemented by a chronology and a bibliographic essay.

Gale, Steven. S. J. Perelman: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1985. This useful, annotated bibliography lists 650 Perelman publications...

(The entire section is 423 words.)