Chapter Four American Literature After the Second World War
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Chapter Four American Literature After the Second World War Introduction (background) The forms of the postwar literature The features and techniques of this period Some terms: The Beat Generation, Black humor
introduction • American literature after the Second World War is usually referred to, more precisely, as postwar of post-modernistic literature, as this division of literary periods is more of social and political than literary consideration. The postwar literature, although short in time, is kaleidoscopic. At least two factors have contributed to this kaleidoscopicalness 五花八 门,万花筒: one is social, the other literary or aesthetical. (P457-466)
• What happened immediately after the Second World War in the USA and other parts of the world exerted a tremendous influence on the mentality of Americans. It changed man’s view of himself and the world as well. • First of all, the dropping of an atomic bomb over Hiroshima in Japan shocked the whole world and made possible the destruction of the Western civilization. • Then a mutual fear and hostility grew between the Eastern and Western countries with the Cold War, the effect of which could be felt in the form of McCarthyism in the USA.
• Besides, the Korean War and the Vietnam War broadened the gap between the government and the people. • The assassination of John.F. Kennedy, and of Martin Luther King, spokesman of the American Civil Rights Movement, the resignation of Nixon because of the Water-Gate scandal, etc. intensified the terror and tossed the whole nation again into the grief and despair. • The impact of these changes and upheavals on the American society is emotional.
• People start to question the role of science in human progress and the fear of the misuse of modern science and technology is spreading. They no longer believe in God but start to reconsider the nature of man and man’s capacity for evil. They begin to think of life as a big joke or an absurdity. The world is even more disintegrating 分裂 and fragmentary不完整 and people are even more estranged 疏远的 and despondent绝望的.
Postwar Poetry • World War II ended two decades of vigorous literary activity in the USA. • The postwar poets, with Robert Lowell in the lead, would typically write about an object or a situation which could express or classify their own feeling, showing a growing sense of resistance to the existing culture and at the same time an assertion of the self.
• Poets in 50s and the 60s were grouped under different titles, and among them the outstanding ones are Gary Snyder, who tends to liberate poetry from the academy and make it popular among the ordinary people, and Allen Ginsberg, whose “Howl (1956)” became the manifesto of the Beat Movement.
Postwar Fiction • American fiction from 1945 onwards is a bigger story than poetry and drama. • First of all, a group of new writers who survived the war wrote about their traumatic experience within the military machined and on European and Pacific battlefields, among whom we have Norman Mailer and Herman Wouk. Robert Penn Warren and Flannery O’Conner are representatives of the talented Southern writers, who followed Faulkner’s footsteps in portraying the decadence and evil in the Southern society in a Gothic manner.
• By the 1950s a significant group of JewishAmerican writers had appeared and one of them was Saul Bellow. Their work, drawing on the Jewish experience and tradition, examined subtly the dismantling of the self by an intolerable modern history. • Black fiction began to attract critical attention during the period, too, the two major figures are Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison, both of whom captured the wide attention of the white readers by truthfully, openly, and shockingly describing the life of black people as they knew if from their own experience.
• For the first time in the history of American writings, African-Americans started to question their identity as a group and as an individual美国黑人第一次对他们的 群体和个人的身份开始质疑. • Other important writers who were writing at the time include J. D. Salinger and John Updike. Salinger is considered to be a spokesman for the alienated youth in the post-war era and his The Catcher in the Rye＜ 裸麦田里的接手＞is regarded as a students’ classic. Updike’s Rabbit novels examine the middle-class values and portray the troubled relationships in people’s private life and their internal decay under the stress of the modern times. 在现代社会重压下人们私 生活复杂关系和内心世界的败坏．
• American fiction in the 1960s and 1970s proves to be different from its predecessors in that the writers started to depart from the conventions of the novel writing and experimented with some new forms. Hence, it is always referred to as “new fiction,” with Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, John Bath, and Thomas Pynchon at its forefront. Roughly speaking, these writers shared almost the same belief that human beings are trapped in a meaningless world and that neither God nor man can make sense of the human condition. 这些作家普遍认为人类在毫无意义的 世界里沉浮，上帝与人类无法弄懂人类环境有什 么意义．
• What’s more, this absurdist vision is integrated with an absurd form, which is characterized by comic exaggerations, ironic uses of parodies滑 稽的模仿, multiple realities, often twodimensional characters, and a combination of fantastic events with realistic presentations. • 这种荒诞的观点与荒诞的形式结合，运用喜剧夸 张、滑稽模仿中的反讽，把难以想象的事物用现 实的手法表现出来
• In general terms, much serious literature written from 1912 onwards attempted to convey a vision of social breakdown and moral decay and the writer’s task was to develop techniques that could represent a break with the past. Thus, the defining formal characteristics of the modernistic works are discontinuity and fragmentation. • 总之，1912年以后许多严肃文学都力图表达社 会崩溃、道德沦丧的观点，作家的任务是发展使 用新技巧，告别老传统。因此美国现代文学的特 点是反传统，求创新。
The features of Postwar literature • Compared with earlier writings, especially those of the 19th century, modern American writings are notable for what they omit – the explanations, interpretations, connections, an summaries. • A typical modern work will seem to begin arbitrarily, to advance without explanation, and to end without resolution.现代文学的特点是开端任意，发展不做解释 以及没有结果的收场． The book is no longer a record of sequence and coherence but a juxtaposition并置 of the past and the present, of the history and the memory, or a book of fragments drawn from diverse areas of experience, including areas previously deemed inappropriate for literature, such as the life of the street or of the mind.
• Modernistic techniques and manifestos were initiated by poets first and later entered and transformed fiction in this period as well. • Like the poets, prose writers strove for directness, compression, and vividness and were sparing of words. The average novel became quite a bit shorter than it had been in the 19th century. New significance was given to the short story, which had previously been thought of as a relatively slight, artistic form. • If realistic fiction achieved its effects by accumulation and saturation, modern fiction preferred suggestiveness暗示. Traditional fiction featured an authoritative narrator in telling a story, while modern fiction tended to employ the first person narration or limit the reader to the “central consciousness” or one character’s point of view.
The Beat Generation • It is also called the Beats, is a term referring to certain American artists and writers who were popular during the 1950s. Composed mostly of some jobless young intellectuals and vagrants, and greatly influenced by Niezsch’s “will to power”, Freudian theory of Psychoanalysis and Sartre’s existentialism, they rejected traditional social and artistic forms, regarding “reason” as the source of misery of the contemporary world. Therefore they turned to sex, alcohol, drugs, fantasies and any other sensual pleasures, hoping to get away from the tradition and reality they refused to accept.
black humor • In literature, drama, and film, grotesque or morbid humor used to express the absurdity, insensitivity, paradox, and cruelty of the modern world. Ordinary characters or situations are usually exaggerated far beyond the limits of normal satire or irony. Black humor uses devices often associated with tragedy and is sometimes equated with tragic farce.