The Perception and Efficacy of 1930s Literature

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I’m actually grateful that I read William Solomon’s Politics and Rhetoric in the Novel in the 1930s a bit later on in the semseter as oppose to towards the beginning of the semester. After diving into the literature of 1930s this past month and a half, it is enlightening to read about how scholars with perspective objectively consider the literature of the 1930s. Solomon begins by stating that

No longer…are students of the novel dismissing the thirties as, from the point of view of the history of the genre, a period without interested, a time in which most American novelists other than Faulkner regressed, unable to pick up where their more modernist precursors left off 799

I was shocked to read this paragraph. I was totally unaware that there was a negative perception of the literature the 1930s produced. On the contrary, after reading John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Nathaniel West’s A Cool Million, I would say scholarly brilliance and humor alike were healthy and abundant during the 1930s, as oppose to the floundering economy. One could maybe even make the argument that such chaos and despair acted as a sort of fertile soil from which controversial and thought provoking literature could grow.


In Hugh Crawford’s On the Fritz: Tom Kromer’s Imaging of the Machine, he illuminates the plight of Kromer in Waiting for Nothing beautifully. Crawford states that

The narrator of this text is an outsider to the world of the socially secure, yet at the same time, as is repeated in nearly every episode, he is an outsider to the world of the other bums 106

This piece of writing from Crawford captures the tragedy of Kromer’s homelessness. To be dispossessed is already tragic. One could also argue, in a less relatable sense, that to be gifted as a writer, is also tragic. But to be dispossessed and not feel like you belong to the dispossessed, and to have a great talent that goes unexposed because of your economic situation, is a certain kind of tragedy unique in its hopelessness. I’m surprised and thankful that Kromer was able to make it through. Kromer lived the life of a bum, aptly described in a to the point manner in Waiting for Nothing, in a style of prose unlike anything else we have read this semester. Not even unpretentious, as this would imply the lack of pretentiousness. Rather, Waiting for Nothing is relatable, uncomplicated, and heartfelt. As Solomon states in Politics and Rhetoric in the Novel in the 1930s,

The most striking feature of Waiting is the apparent artlessness of its diction. The novel achieves this effect by rejecting the preterite, or narrative past, the literary convention Rolan Barthes identifies as “the cornerstone of Narration” and “part of the security system for Belles-Lettres.”

What makes Waiting for Nothing so powerful is the immediecy of the work. The artlessness of the work that Solomon describes induces the reader into a suspension of disbelief without the reader knowing it. You are not indentifying metaphors, or trying to figure out the traps the author has set for you before they happen. Rather, you are along for the ride, sentence by sentence, moment by moment. One is reminded of a current trend in film that values realism over production value (saving on budgets as well), films like American Honey, White Girl, and James White.

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