SINCLAIR LEWIS: THE DARKENING VISION OF HIS LATER NOVELS

SALLY E PARRY, Fordham University

Abstract

Although Sinclair Lewis was the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (1930), literary critics have dismissed his subsequent work as artistically inferior. This study looks at the ten novels Lewis wrote after 1930; in them he displays a progressively darkening vision of an American society too often corrupted by greed and ignorance. These novels deserve critical reexamination for their incisive social criticism and unsparing fictional portrayal of a tumultuous era in American history.^ The dissertation focuses on the following novels: Ann Vickers (1933), Work of Art (1934), It Can't Happen Here (1935), The Prodigal Parents (1938), Bethel Merriday (1940), Gideon Planish (1943), Cass Timberlane (1945), Kingsblood Royal (1947), The God-Seeker (1949), and World So Wide (1951). In order to appreciate the various dimensions of Lewis's later work, these are examined from three specific approaches: socio-historical, biographical, and literary. The novels picture the bewilderment of the American middle class confronting such momentous issues as sexual discrimination, racial prejudice, fascism, the Depression, and World War II. Using the same artistic techniques which contributed to the success of his early fiction, Lewis relied heavily on irony and other satirical techniques to point up the weaknesses and insufficiencies he saw in American life. An idealist who believed in Christian conduct, democratic principles, and old-fashioned civic virtues, he juxtaposed them against realistic American life to show how society fell short.^ His fiction of the 1930s varied greatly in quality and tone as he sympathized with the Depression-wracked middle class in Work of Art and The Prodigal Parents and attacked it for its fascist propensities in It Can't Happen Here. In the 1940s Lewis regained his critical perspective and highlighted problems that he felt were being ignored. This study examines his increasingly pessimistic view of society, the artistic and spiritual crisis he reached after writing Kingsblood Royal, and the uneasy compromise he made with his country in World So Wide. His later novels are the caustic expressions of an idealistic writer who loved America but who could never reconcile himself to repeated stupidities and hatreds in a land which held such promise. ^

Subject Area

American literature

Recommended Citation

PARRY, SALLY E, "SINCLAIR LEWIS: THE DARKENING VISION OF HIS LATER NOVELS" (1986). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8615706.
https://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8615706

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