Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Fragmentary and incomplete though it is, Yonnondio is still one of the more important novels to emerge (even if forty years late) from the 1930’s. In some ways, the novel is as important for what it represents as for what it does or fails to do. On one hand, it is a proletarian novel that fulfills the reader’s best expectations for that abused genre. In the early 1970’s, in the middle of a revival of both popular and critical interest in the literature of the 1930’s, Yonnondio unexpectedly appeared to confirm what certain critics and scholars had been arguing since at least the Cold War: that the proletarian novel had qualities of sensibility and commitment rare in American fiction and deserved better treatment at the hands of historians. A number of proletarian novels have in fact been reprinted since Olsen’s book proving this thesis, including several others by women: Fielding Burke’s Call Home the Heart (1932, reissued 1983), for example, and Josephine Herbst’s Trexler trilogy: Pity Is Not Enough (1933), The Executioner Waits (1934, reissued 1977 and 1985), and Rope of Gold (1939, reissued 1979 and 1984).

These last works introduce a second major critical revival of the past few decades, the rediscovery of a neglected American literary canon, particularly the work of women and other literary minorities. Yonnondio represents still another novel in a long and growing list of...

(The entire section is 442 words.)