A Walker in the City Critical Context - Essay

Alfred Kazin

Critical Context

Alfred Kazin’s conscious reason for writing A Walker in the City was certainly personal. The success of his first book, On Native Grounds, doubtless inspired in him the desire to explain himself more fully, to resolve the apparent paradox that he seemed to many to represent as a non-American critic of American literature. It is not likely, however, that that was Kazin’s sole motivation. With the perspicacity of hindsight, it is possible to associate Kazin’s autobiographical memoir with other events then occurring in the literary world, and particularly with the remarkable post-World War II flowering of American-Jewish writing. From 1945 to 1970 there poured out, mainly from New York, an incredible body of writing—including poetry, drama, fiction, and essays—by Jews and on overtly Jewish themes. Such writers as Delmore Schwartz, Arthur Miller, Saul Bellow, and Lionel Trilling, not to mention influential publications such as Commentary and Partisan Review, constituted a major new presence in American literature in those years. Alfred Kazin must be understood as part of that phenomenon and A Walker in the City as one of its key triumphs, being at once one of the works of art defining the movement and an explanation of the movement’s existence.