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10. Money and Things: Capitalist Realism, Anxiety, and Social Critique in Works by Hemingway, Wharton, and Fitzgerald

Richard Godden

Subject Literature » American Literature

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

People Wharton, Edith

Key-Topics capitalism, novel and novella

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631206873.2009.00013.x


Writing in 1931 for the Saturday Evening Post , in nostalgic vein, Fitzgerald observed that “the Jazz Age … raced along under its own power, served by great filling stations full of money” ( Fitzgerald 2005 : 134), fueling, presumably, Dos Passos's “billiondollar speedup” (Dos Passos 1937 : 526). Whether treating of the opulent, the merely respectable, or the poor, the fiction of the 1920s seems well aware of “The Big Money.” It may be Gatsby's enormous liquid assets or Clyde Griffiths's “downpour of small change” ( Dreiser 1926 : 51), but its influence is felt across the board. On the evidence of a rise in disposable income and an increase in consumer credit, it would be fair to assume that, if not on your street, then on someone else's, “a whole race [was] going hedonistic, deciding on pleasure” ( Fitzgerald 2005 : 132). The Lynds note dryly of Middletown – their “mid-channel sort of American community” – that “more and more of the activities of living are coming to be strained through the bars of the dollar sign” ( Lynd and Lynd 1929 : 80–1). The 1920s were par excellence a commercial age. Monopoly capitalism flourished, as corporations, employing criteria of efficiency, standardized production in the pursuit of steadily rising sales – and were successful. After the slump in demand (1920–2) and the labor unrest of the immediate postwar years (1919–21), American capital persuaded ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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