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18. The Proletarian Novel

Barbara Foley

Subject Literature » American Literature

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

Key-Topics class (social), novel and novella

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631206873.2009.00021.x


In the context of US literary history, the term “proletarian novel” is most applicable to a grouping of approximately one hundred novels that were produced during the years 1929–1941. During the Cold War, and for several decades beyond, the proletarian novel was derogated as aesthetically bankrupt and relegated to the dustbin of literary history. The poststructuralist-based antipathy to totalizing narratives, as well as the identity-based model of “intersectionality” guiding much more recent “gender, race and class” scholarship (based on the premise that an individual's identity is produced as the intersection of class, race, and gender affiliations), have continued to marginalize these leftist texts. Scholars participating in the current resurgence of interest in the proletarian novel – and proletarian literature more generally – are thus called upon first to engage in considerable ground-clearing and stage-setting, both literary-historical and theoretical. The emergence of the proletarian novel is inseparable from its historical context, which was characterized by three interrelated extraliterary developments: the political and economic crisis of the Depression; the emergence of Soviet socialism and its far-flung challenge to capitalism; and the growth of the American Communist Party (CPUSA), which exercised widespread influence upon writers, first through the John Reed Clubs ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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