There was a sudden transformation from an “old-style evangelical reformism,” to a “newstyle urban progressivism

videoinJune 7, 2022

There was a sudden transformation from an “old-style evangelical reformism,” to a “newstyle urban progressivism

Similarly, Scott Rae and Austin Hill state that “capitalism produces a culture that is committed to materialism and consumes much more than it should [and] produces a soulless, materialistic culture that leads to spiritual poverty” (Rae Austin, 2010 , p

Portraying the United States in the era of 1914–1930, William Leuchtenburg states that it is characterized by inconsistency, transformation, and anxiety. Those years signify a restless turning point between the typically conventional, agrarian, nonmetropolitan, religious nation from before WWI and a mechanized, nonreligious, and urban country. ” The nation’s conundrums emerged due to the disinclination of Americans to reconcile themselves with their new America: “a strong state, the dominance of the metropolis, secularization and the breakdown of religious sanctions, the loss of authority of the family, industrial consolidation, international power politics, and mass culture” (Leuchtenburg, 1958 , p. 522).

On a different note, materialism is a broad concept that is intimately linked to capitalism, or in Elie Adams’ words: “the capitalist system is the embodiment of modern materialism” (Adams, 1997 , 127). The author maintains that capitalism is “a way of life dominated by materialistic values, scientific/technological ways of thought, and individualistic utilitarian rationality of the profit-driven […] economy” (129). 66).

From this perspective, materialism also affects the family unit and unity. Hence, the traditional meaning of the family as an integrating, connecting agent has been thrown into disarray because family members are now, first and foremost, activated by materialism. Over and above, one obvious repercussion of materialism is that conventional religion turns into business. Religious institutions and leaders are motivated by the desire for material gain. Edward Thompson depicts the impact of capitalism on the dissolution of the American home: “Each stage in industrial differentiation and specialization struck [. ] at the family economy, disturbing customary relations between man and wife, parents and children, and differentiating more sharply between “work” and “life,” such deformations of the traditional family seemed a small price to pay for the promotion of capitalism” (Thompson, 1980 , p. 416).

In the following paragraphs, I present examples of xenophobia and racism omnipresent in the novels. Although these two expressions often overlap, there is a major difference. Whereas xenophobia refers to the fear of strangers based on their undisclosed aspects, racism touches upon the fear of strangers based on their corporeal features. For the sake of clarity, I demonstrate how foreigners are presented in relation to materialism. Obviously, gender, among other themes is worthwhile scrutinizing; however, it is not my intention to discuss it in this work.

2. Racism and Xenophobia

In this section, I will discuss two different modes of intolerance expressed in the novels: xenophobia and racism. Noticeably, we observe anti-Semitism in the bargain, but I prefer to include it within the scope of these two terms since anti-Semitism could be racial or xenophobic, i.e. cultural.

The utterances and the pronouncements of the narrators or characters in the novels ridicule the speakers’ new material interests. At the top of the list of those ridiculed are foreigners, i.e. non-Americans, who are often portrayed as Prohibition-breakers and bootleggers. They are seen to have decadent opinions as agitators, socialists, and strikers. The censure of immigrants is strongly linked to their materialism This does not mean that “native-born” characters are not portrayed as materialists but they are not censured as much (like Babbitt), or, they are shown as victims of the capitalist system promoted by foreigners (such as the Professor).

It is equally important to highlight the authors’ political tendencies throughout their writing. Gary Levine analyzes how the figure of the commercial Jew since the sudden rise of the Victorian stock market until the Great Depression is handled in the works of Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Fitzgerald, and Dreiser in addition to other authors. Levine contends that the textual products of these writers are heavily influenced by the major shifts of capitalism, and that modern anti-Semitism has emerged as a result of the economic history , pp. 53–125). He also adds that “For most if not all late Victorian and Modernist authors, the economic Jew is a metonym for capitalism” (1) Alfred Kazin, examining the work of Lewis, Cather, Wharton, and Fitzgerald among others, maintains that these writers adopt a new literary style reflecting historical events, directly or indirectly conveying deep national sentiments associated with economic consciousness. He claims that their works demonstrate the deep moral shifts in American society influenced by science, industrialization, and a World War (Kazin, 1970 , pp. xxi-xxv).

Leave a comment

Name *
Add a display name
Email *
Your email address will not be published