American Naturalism and the Jews

American Naturalism and the Jews: Garland, Norris, Dreiser, Wharton, and Cather

DONALD PIZER
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 112
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt1xcn31
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    American Naturalism and the Jews
    Book Description:

    American Naturalism and the Jews examines the unabashed anti-Semitism of five notable American naturalist novelists otherwise known for their progressive social values. Hamlin Garland, Frank Norris, and Theodore Dreiser all pushed for social improvements for the poor and oppressed, while Edith Wharton and Willa Cather both advanced the public status of women. But they all also expressed strong prejudices against the Jewish race and faith throughout their fiction, essays, letters, and other writings, producing a contradiction in American literary history that has stymied scholars and, until now, gone largely unexamined. In this breakthrough study, Donald Pizer confronts this disconcerting strain of anti-Semitism pervading American letters and culture, illustrating how easily prejudice can coexist with even the most progressive ideals._x000B__x000B_Pizer shows how these writers' racist impulses represented more than just personal biases, but resonated with larger social and ideological movements within American culture. Anti-Semitic sentiment motivated such various movements as the western farmers' populist revolt and the East Coast patricians' revulsion against immigration, both of which Pizer discusses here. This antagonism toward Jews and other non-Anglo-Saxon ethnicities intersected not only with these authors' social reform agendas but also with their literary method of representing the overpowering forces of heredity, social or natural environment, and savage instinct._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09217-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xviii)

    I have been writing for over fifty years about the generation of American writers who came to maturity in the 1890s and who are usually designated as naturalists. I have always been aware of the anti-Semitism present in the thinking of almost all of these writers, but since I believed that this was not a major element in their work, I put it aside. More recently, however, while editing Dreiser’s interviews and then his letters, I came to realize that this strain had a more significant role in his career than I had previously understood. From my effort in a...

  5. 1 Hamlin Garland
    (pp. 1-14)

    The discussion of Garland’s attitude toward the Jews that follows, I hasten to state at the beginning, is not an effort to paint him as an anti-Semite in any conventional sense of the term. Garland was not deeply preoccupied by the Jewish presence in American society for much of his career, and his comments about Jews lacked the rabid vehemence of the full-scale anti-Semite. Indeed, with the exception of his diaries and his last series of autobiographies (which themselves often derive from his diaries), his writings contain few direct references to Jews.¹ (As I will shortly seek to demonstrate, it...

  6. 2 Frank Norris
    (pp. 15-30)

    Frank Norris’s racism, which includes one of the most vicious anti-Semitic portrayals in any major work of American literature, has long been an embarrassment to admirers of the vigor and intensity of his best fiction and has also contributed to the decline of his reputation during the past several generations. It would be easy in Norris’s case, given the range and consistency of his racial biases, to attribute this aspect of his beliefs to a personal flaw. But although there may indeed be a psychological misalignment in Norris’s deepest nature that contributed to his bigotry, it is both more feasible...

  7. 3 Theodore Dreiser
    (pp. 31-49)

    Dreiser concerned himself fully with the Jewish presence in America only from the mid-1920s to his death in 1945; indeed, it was only in the last decade of that period that he became widely known as an anti-Semite. In addition, although Jews appear occasionally in his writing, they always do so in minor roles, with the single exception of his playThe Hand of the Potter(1919). Yet despite this seeming paucity of material bearing on Dreiser and the Jews, the subject is both rich and of great interest and importance.¹ From his initial encounters with Jewish merchants in Chicago...

  8. 4 Edith Wharton and Willa Cather
    (pp. 50-64)

    A study of Edith Wharton’s and Willa Cather’s attitudes toward Jews requires a somewhat different approach than that which was employed for the figures already discussed. Each woman succeeded in keeping much of her private life and opinions out of public knowledge during both her lifetime and afterward. Wharton’s affair with Morton Fullerton was not revealed until several decades after her death, and the editors of her letters, R. W. B. and Nancy Lewis, refused to publish those that expressed the blatant anti-Semitism of her later years. Cather’s lengthy relationships with other women also led her to be secretive about...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 65-66)

    Anti-Semitism was a pervasive element in the thinking of many of the new writers who emerged during the 1890s. Although the prejudice never reached the virulence found in a Dostoevsky or Celine, it was nevertheless a distinct presence. For Hamlin Garland, anti-Semitism was largely a closet belief, expressed principally in his diaries and later autobiographies. For the other writers I have discussed, however, it found its way into their fiction, often in relation to significant strands of plot and theme. Although all the writers I include in this study had Jewish friends and acquaintances, a few—notably Theodore Dreiser and...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 67-76)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 77-84)
  12. Index
    (pp. 85-88)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 89-91)