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The Oxford History of the Novel in EnglishVolume 6: The American Novel 1879-1940$
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Priscilla Wald and Michael A. Elliott

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780195385342

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780195385342.001.0001

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Mass Culture, the Novel, and the American Left

Mass Culture, the Novel, and the American Left

(p.533) 33 Mass Culture, the Novel, and the American Left
The Oxford History of the Novel in English

Benjamin Balthaser

Shelley Streeby

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores the complex relationship between the left and mass culture in the first four decades of the twentieth century, and how writers and critics on the left understood mass culture's connection with the novel. It first considers the meanings of left, mass culture, and novel and why they belong together before turning to a discussion of literary realism in relation to emergent forms of mass media of the period. It then explains how novels participated in the cultures of sentiment and sensation and discusses the emergence of radical novels as well as the relationship between class and mass culture. It also examines Richard Wright's readings of Joe Louis, the African American heavyweight boxing champion nicknamed “the Brown Bomber,” and Bigger Thomas, the protagonist in his 1940 novel Native Son. The chapter concludes with an analysis of John Steinbeck's Joad family in his 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath.

Keywords:   left, mass culture, novel, literary realism, mass media, Richard Wright, Joe Louis, Native Son, John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

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