Industrializing American culture: heartland radicals, Midwestern migration, and the Chicago Renaissance
"Industrializing American Culture" uses the Chicago Renaissance, a literary movement whose importance is rarely appreciated today, to show industrialization's powerful influence on the development of twentieth-century American culture. During a brief period in the 1910s, the leaders of the movement, including Floyd Dell, Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Carl Sandburg, and Edgar Lee Masters, popularized a set of themes and a style that ended the nineteenth-century American romantic tradition and helped set a new direction for the nation's literature. They introduced to American writing a frank examination of sexuality. They focused on the grit of the industrial metropolis and the mundane life of Midwestern towns. They wrote about ordinary characters and, for the first time, introduced America's urban vernacular to fiction and poetry. They also brought to American novels a less celebratory, more nuanced view of American migration and helped bring a style of realism to the fore of American writing.Why they made these particular stylistic and thematic choices had much to do with their experiences growing up in the industrializing Midwest. All of these authors were from the regional hinterlands where the wrenching social, economic, and political changes of industrialization shaped their childhood and youth in the late nineteenth century. As their families experienced downward mobility, these authors developed a Midwestern radical outlook pieced together from the many political movements that swept through the region. At the same time, however, their families clung to middleclass identities and the future authors developed a strong success ethos. They joined the ranks of ambitious Midwesterners who migrated to Chicago and, over the long term, succeeded in building professional careers. The changes they brought to American literature reflected many of their influences growing up in the industrializing Midwest. As they led American writing in new directions, they helped industrialize American culture.This deeply contextualized study offers a new understanding of the relationship between cultural and social history in the twentieth century. It also reevaluates the impact of American radicalism by focusing on its cultural legacy. In addition, it is one of the few studies of America's internal cityward migration during the industrial era.
- History