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Review of Dancing in the Dark by Morris Dickstein

Review of Dancing in the Dark by Morris Dickstein

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Published by Tim W. Brown
Review of Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression by Morris Dickstein. Originally appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of Rain Taxi Online.
Review of Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression by Morris Dickstein. Originally appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of Rain Taxi Online.

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Published by: Tim W. Brown on Feb 06, 2011
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 Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression
Morris DicksteinW.W. Norton$29.95By Tim W. Brown
 Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression
by MorrisDickstein is an extremely timely and fresh study of 1930s literature, film, photographyand music. The book presents a vivid portrait of the era, as illustrated by eyewitnesstestimony and cultural artifacts. Demonstrating a mastery of his source material,Dickstein persuasively argues that "the arts of the thirties give us a richly subjectiveunderstanding of the mind and heart of the Depression" and "an incomparable case studyof the function of art and media in a time of social crisis." (xviii)Dickstein
 
extensively discusses the influences on, and intricacies of, dozens of literary works, including those by John Dos Passos, James Agee, John Steinbeck, ErskineCaldwell, Nathanael West, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, James T. Farrell,Clifford Odets and others, which conveyed several general themes of thirties high art and popular culture: discovery of the "common man"; loss of faith in capitalism; longing for agrander past or better future; adoption of communist, socialist or fascist poses; andrejection of the traditional success model that had seduced Americans since colonialtimes.Dickstein also reawakens interest in authors who are largely forgotten today, notablyMichael Gold, author of 
 Jews Without Money
. His discourse on Gold and the “proletariannovel,” which had a brief heyday in the early1930s, explains how writers returned tosociological subjects explored at the turn of the century by Theodore Dreiser and StephenCrane and largely rejected their immediate modernist forbears like James Joyce andGertrude Stein, who focused obsessively on inner psychology. (Dickstein acknowledgesthat William Faulkner’s work defies such easy categorization, combining dark  psychological insights with devastating social portraits.) Emphasis on social criticismintensified throughout the decade, culminating in Steinbeck’s
The Grapes of Wrath
,America’s greatest social protest novel.

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